A huge, beaming smile started to adorn Phil Bauhaus’ face as he watched re-runs of his Stage 3 victory on big screens in the post-race press conference at the Abu Dhabi Tour, where yet another German sprint hero may well be emerging.
The Team Sunweb rider trapped illustrious compatriots Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel in his own web to win the final sprinter’s stage in the UAE capital, although the 23-year-old endured an agonising wait as race chiefs pored over footage to determine who had crossed the line first.
Victory was eventually rewarded to the boy from Bocholt – he staved off a fantastic late surge from Kittel to win by less than the width of a tyre.
It was his second WorldTour win following victory on Stage 5 at the Criterium du Dauphine last June. The 6-foot tall German is hardly short, but his triumph will help him stand tall with big name compatriots Kittel and Greipel – who finished sixth – and Bauhaus believes the win proves he truly belongs at the elite level.
“It makes me really proud. Years ago I was watching Marcel sprinting at the Tour de France and other big names, and now I’m competing with them and beating them. It’s a really nice feeling to finally be at the top level on the WorldTour,” said Bauhaus, who received a double boost as victory saw him usurp LottoNL-Jumbo rider Danny van Poppel as the best young rider at the Tour.
“When I crossed the line I knew it was close. I didn’t know if I’d won because Kittel came really fast from behind. I thought I was second but then they told me I’d won so it was really nice. It makes me proud to win with all these big names here.
“I saw these guys sprinting when I was younger and now I get to compete with them so it’s great. It’s a big win for me. It’s one of the biggest. I’m happy but I hope to continue.”
Bauhaus was born in the same year as two of the best young sprinters in cycling today – Quick-Step Floors’ Fernando Gaviria and Mitchelton-Scott’s Caleb Ewan. In fact all three were born within a month of each other.
And while the two younger riders have really made an impact at the elite level, Bauhaus’ progress has been slower, although he feels this win could be a seminal one.
“At the moment we have a lot of good sprinters from my era and in general,” said the man who’s first love was football before taking up cycling aged eight.
“These two are the biggest names in my age but there will be new names and I’m happy I’m also there now.”
Pascal Ackermann’s third place for Bora-Hansgrohe meant it was an all-German top three in Abu Dhabi, and Bauhaus admits more sprinting talents are coming through to continue the legacy established by Greipel and Kittel.
He added: “I don’t know why Germany has so many good sprinters. We really have world class sprinters, we’ve had it in the past and also now. I don’t know if there’s a reason, I think we are just born with it.
“Cycling is strong in Germany again. We had the Tour de France start in Dusseldorf last year and everyone could see it’s still there. What I think is missing a bit is a GC guy who can fight for Grand Tour wins.
“But we are working also to have good climbers for the GC. Cycling is growing, definitely.”
Of his own Grand Tour ambitions, Bauhaus is hopeful he will be in Sunweb’s plans for one of the three cycling spectacles this year.
“For sure I have to go and be part of one,” he said.
“The Tour de France will be really difficult but I’m just working on myself and then we will see for which one I get selected. It’s not important for me as others to be at the Tour. But it would be nice to be part of one.”
Defeat to Bauhaus meant more misery for Kittel, meanwhile, who has yet to taste victory for new team Katusha-Alpecin, while the man who replaced him at Quick-Step – Elia Viviani – has already chalked up five wins.
He was not downbeat, however, despite coming so close on the Corniche, and still felt he had reason to celebrate with second place.
“I think it’s a successful race, we were just a bit too late. It’s getting better,” said the 29-year-old.
“I can say it’s progress and we can be proud of that. I’m not letting myself down and the team is very motivated every day and I have huge respect for the boys.
“We want to go for the win and every time it feels like a defeat but you have to get up and go again and take the next chance.”
Asked if he was nervous about his relative slump – Kittel won a joint record 14 times in men’s professional cycling last season – he said: “When I look at my watch it’s February. We still have seven months of the season to go and 70 races to go. There’s still a lot of chances for victories.
“This is a development and we are taking time for ourselves. I’m enjoying the process although it’s sometimes disappointing. But it’s part of the sport and what we want to do to develop.”
The German rider Phil Bauhaus (Team Sunweb) won Stage 3 of the 2018 Abu Dhabi Tour on Friday, from Abu Dhabi to Abu Dhabi (Al Marina - 133km), in a bunch sprint.
Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors), fourth on the finish line, retains the lead in the General Classification. On the podium he was rewarded with the race leader's Red Jersey, sponsored by Al Maryah Island, and also the points leader's Green Jersey, sponsored by Emirates Post.
1 - Phil Bauhaus (Team Sunweb) 133km in 3h02’55”, average speed 43.626km/h
2 - Marcel Kittel (Team Katusha Alpecin) s.t.
Alex Dowsett is convinced Marcel Kittel’s class will shine through despite a below par start to life at Katusha-Alpecin.
Kittel left Quick-Step for the Swiss-backed former Russian team in the off-season after two glorious years with the Belgian team.
Despite earning five stage wins at the Tour de France in 2017, the rise of Fernando Gaviria at Quick-Step jeopardised Kittel’s place in the team for Le Tour this year, with both men competing for the star sprinter’s role.
Germany’s Kittel won 14 individual races last year – a joint record in men’s cycling for 2017 – although rising Colombian star Gaviria also notched 14 victories, including an impressive four stage wins on his Grand Tour debut at the Giro d’Italia.
Kittel wasn’t content to play second fiddle to or battle Gaviria for top spot, so left. And after 26 total victories in two years with Quick-Step, Kittel switched to Katusha, although it’s been a slow start at his new team.
He could only finish 82nd on Stage 2 of the Abu Dhabi Tour on Thursday, but fellow new arrival Dowsett says there is no doubting Kittel’s quality.
“We’re working well together as a team. It’s not about getting the end result because we know the caliber of Marcel,” said the 29-year-old Englishman, who severed a five-year tie with Movistar to join Katusha this season.
“He had bad legs today. It’s about going through the motions of getting the lead out train sorted. Because if he’s got good legs he will win so it’s just a case of gelling and getting our s**t together.
“I think we are, we’re there or there abouts. Hopefully we’ll get there tomorrow and we’ll keep trying.”
A chaotic Stage 2 made for excellent racing and drama from Yas Mall to Yas Beach, with crosswinds playing havoc as three groups tore the peloton to pieces.
Katusha were the instigators as the original five-man breakaway was swallowed up with just under 50km to go, with eventual stage winner Elia Viviani and Stage 1 winner Alexander Kristoff cut adrift.
They both recovered as the second and third groups worked together to close in on the leading pack, of which Kittel was a part.
And Dowsett revealed Kittel’s chances of victory were perhaps closed off by his own attempt to make a move too early in the closing stages.
“At 80km the winds split the group to pieces, that was our fault,” said Dowsett.
“It was really good though, in the final we wanted to hit the corner with 5km to go up the front and we hit it on the front, we wanted to be on the right and we were, but it was a long 5km.
“I went a little bit early and I think the boys behind then had to improvise a little and took it to 2km. The pace ramped up and I couldn’t quite keep with it. I just had to get out of the way of my boys and everyone else.”
Overnight white jersey occupant Caleb Ewan, meanwhile, was part of the leading group who made a move just after halfway, and he added fifth place to his third from Stage 1, although he was replaced at the top of the Young Rider standings by Danny van Poppel of LottoNL-Jumbo, who finished second.
And with Saturday’s time trial and Sunday’s ascent on Jebel Hafeet to come, the young Australian doesn’t think he’ll get the white jersey back.
“I was in the front group which was good. Then in the finish I was trapped in on the left and couldn’t get out. Once I started my sprint it was too late,” said the 23-year-old Mitchelton-Scott rider.
“I’ve already lost it (white jersey) but once we get to the time trial and the hill it’s going to be too tough for me to get it back.
“It was close to the finish so it could have gone either way. Sometimes they’ll stay away, sometimes they won’t but I decided to keep on the safe side and go with that first group. The others were wasting a bit more energy.”
Despite his disappointment, he was again pleased with his aggressive stance in helping form the lead group in the wind and how he pushed the world’s best sprinters, including Kittel.
He added: “I think that’s the way to go. I’m still young and making my way up. I need to prove myself, those big guys have done that, I just need to keep chipping away and try and get some more wins.”