Elia Viviani may have spent much of Wednesday toasting to his 29th birthday, but a day on the celebrations continued as the Italian sealed the leaders’ blue jersey on Stage 3 in Fujairah.
The Quick-Step Floors rider leads the overall classifications of the Dubai Tour by four seconds, with two stages remaining, and looks on the cusp of sealing a first victory on UAE soil.
A sixth-place finish had to suffice for Viviani on Thursday, and although he was disappointed with his execution in the final metres of the sprint, he showed mettle to push for the line against eventual stage winner Mark Cavendish.
“It’s not the best result for me but I’m happy to have the leaders’ jersey. I was disappointed not to take some bonuses for second or third today, but we always try to sprint for the win,” he said.
“The headwind with 200metres to go is difficult with such a good sprinter on the wheel. It’s difficult to stay in front until the line. I started to lose speed on the last 50m with five guys approaching me and I ended up finishing sixth.”
Friday’s 172km route will take the riders out of Skydive Dubai and towards the hilly terrain of Hatta, which will provide its first real challenge.
Given Viviani is a sprinter, it will be difficult for the former Team Sky man to attack on the 500m ascent that concludes the stage, but he is hoping for a positive showing to keep his hands on the blue jersey.
“I think it’s difficult for me to try to win, but if I’m in a good position with good leg speed I’ll try to defend as much as possible. It’s nothing to do with lead out, but to be in good position,” he added.
“We need to defend but that’s what all the sprinters are thinking about tomorrow. Whoever wins tomorrow will be the biggest contender.”
Based on his consistency over the first three days, the Verona native looks in firm control to push for a first title in Dubai.
“It’s a tough finish on Friday. A lot of it is about positioning. The gap is so small,” he said. “All the sprinters will have the same goal. Defend and try to attack on Friday. It’s a chance to gain time and think about Saturday.”
Mark Cavendish comes barreling over the finish line, clenches a fist and looks like that same maestro we’ve seen light up many Tour de France stages over the years.
France may be a far cry from the streets of Fujairah – but the Dimenson Data rider looked in emphatic from as he cruised to victory on Stage 3 of the Dubai Tour – claiming a first UCI stage win since February 2017.
A bout of glandular fever and a dislocated shoulder may have curtailed his usual sparkling form for large parts of last season, but the 32-year-old looked back his best on Thursday.
“I’m very happy. We had a plan to be in the front few at the roundabout with 3km to go. I was lucky that Nacer (Bouhanni, Team Cofidis) let me in with a few hundred metres to go on the attack,” said Cavendish.
“I realised I can’t match Elia (Viviani, Quick-Step Floors) in a track sprint so I had to leave it late and wait until he passed his initial peak and he was settled into his sprint. I used my jump to pass him. It’s a gamble but it paid off.
“Any time of year, it’s important to win. Already with this win, I’ve won the same amount of races I won in the whole of last season.”
Cavendish looked utterly dominant – and Thursday’s stage win means he trails new leader Viviani by four seconds as the riders gear up for the 172km hilly stage from Dubai to Hatta Dam on Friday.
Although he was elated to win in the port of Fujariah, the Manx Missile voiced his disappointed about Wednesday’s finish in Ras Al Khaimah where he eased off towards the end and finished fourth.
If the Briton had pushed in those final metres and gained an extra position or two then he would have been wearing the leaders jersey in Fujairah.
“I was just disappointed that I sat up with the sprint yesterday. I was angry with himself. I let myself and my team down,” he said.
“Technically I could be in the jersey if I didn’t sit up yesterday. I wouldn’t have won but I could have come second and got the time bonuses.”
His building form certainly represents a significant boost though as Cavendish embarks on a month-long schedule in the Middle East.
After Saturday’s finish in Citywalk, the team will depart for the Tour of Oman before returning to the Emirates for the Abu Dhabi Tour on February 21.
He said. “Any win for any sprinter adds confidence. I’m normally near my form in July but I’m happy with my form for February.
“I had a strong winter and I wanted to come in early season and continue to hit the ground running here.”
British sprint king Mark Cavendish earned his first win of the year by claiming victory in the third stage of the Dubai Tour on Thursday.
The 32-year-old former world champion edged out France's Nacer Bouhanni and German powerhouse Marcel Kittel at the end of the 180km stage from Dubai to Fujairah.