Spotlight off the sprinters and other talking points after Abu Dhabi Tour Stage 3

Matt Jones 23/02/2018
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After three stages of the Abu Dhabi Tour, sprint king Elia Viviani leads the way, although that is all set to change with Stage 4’s time trial and Stage 5’s mountainous ascent of Jebel Hafeet to come.

The sprinters have dominated things so far, but the likes of Fabio Aru, Alejandro Valverde and Tom Dumoulin are primed and ready to attack in order to gain overall victory.

Here, we pick out a few talking points after three days of racing.

Say goodbye to the sprinters

It’s been three fascinating sprint finishes to open the Abu Dhabi Tour, but Saturday is where things get really interesting with the introduction for the first time of a time trial to the race. Team Sunweb were celebrating victory with Phil Bauhaus on Stage 3, and expect them to be in the mix for victory again with time trial specialist Tom Dumoulin set to be one of riders taking centre stage.

Also keep an eye on Team Dimension Data’s Steve Cummings, BMC’s Rohan Dennis and LottoNL-Jumbo’s Danny van Poppel.

Luke Rowe is back competing after breaking his leg in August.

Luke Rowe is back competing after breaking his leg in August.

Remarkable Rowe

He’s not going to be challenging for Abu Dhabi Tour honours, but the fact Luke Rowe is even in Abu Dhabi is a remarkable feat. The Team Sky rider broke his leg in 25 places when he jumped into shallow water while white-water rafting on his brother’s stag party in Prague last August.

He was expected to be out for a year but miraculously lined up on the start line for Wednesday’s Stage 1. And while 96th, 102nd and 135th finishes won’t make the headlines, the Welshman will just be ecstatic to be back in the thick of the action.

Viva Viviani

Speaking at the Dubai Tour earlier this month, Elia Viviani claimed he didn’t feel he was quite at the level of Mark Cavendish or Marcel Kittel. And while the Italian is undoubtedly alongside the duo as one of the world’s best sprinters, he hasn’t got the wins to show for it.

Manx Missile Cavendish has 30 stage wins at the Tour de France, and 48 in total at Grand Tours, while Kittel has 14 at Le Tour and 19 at Grand Tours. Viviani has just one. But while Kittel – who won a joint top 14 times last season – continues to struggle in the early part of 2018, Viviani is thriving, with five wins to his name. Keep this up and he could be in for a big year.

Time trial adds another dimension to Tour

The fourth edition of the race could really showcase the city, the UAE and Middle East as a thriving destination for the world’s best cyclists. The Tour this year introduced a fifth stage for the first time – the Dubai Tour has had five stages for the past two editions – but the sheer variety on offer for riders in Abu Dhabi offer up all kinds of possibilities.

With three sprint stages followed by a time trial and the mountain stage moving to the final day, it really is wide open as to who will be victorious, with the likes of reigning champion Rui Costa – who’s yet to enjoy the spotlight – set to come into his own.

Tom Dumoulin could have a big say in the remaining two days of the Tour.

Tom Dumoulin could have a big say in the remaining two days of the Tour.

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Elia Viviani insists he will go 'full gas' on Abu Dhabi Tour Stage 4 time trial to respect leader's jersey

Matt Jones 23/02/2018
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Elia Viviani maintained his hold on the red leader's jersey in Abu Dhabi.

Elia Viviani insists he will go “full gas” at Saturday’s time trial on Stage 4 of the Abu Dhabi Tour, even though the Italian sprinter’s hopes of still being in the red leader’s jersey come Sunday are out of his hands.

The Quick-Step Floors rider maintained his grip on the overall lead at the Tour after finishing fourth behind winner Phil Bauhaus in a thrilling sprint battle on Stage 3 on Friday.

The 29-year-old comes into Saturday’s penultimate stage – a 12.6km circuit of Al Maryah and Al Reem Island – three seconds ahead of UAE Team EmiratesAlexander Kristoff and Stage 3 winner Bauhaus (Team Sunweb).

“The goal was to win the stage but we finished fourth,” said Stage 2 victor Viviani.

“But this season I haven’t finished outside the top five in sprints. When you are like that the wins come. We already have five wins and we want to win always, but you can’t win always.

“It’s cool to be in the red jersey tomorrow. I do full gas for sure to respect the leader’s jersey. I am the leader, I need to do this.

“Plus we are in the first few weeks of the season so it all helps to build for the future and races coming up. The European season starts in the next few weeks and I want to be ready so tomorrow I go full gas.”

Stage 3 featured another flat day of racing with four riders escaping early. Marco Maronese (Bardiani CSF), Sergey Firsanov (Gazprom-Rusvelo), Pierre Rolland (EF Education First-Drapac) and Sam Brand (Novo Nordisk), who enjoyed a maximum advantage of a little under three minutes.

As in previous days, the peloton enjoyed a relaxed start to the day before beginning to reel the break in with around 70km remaining.

From there the pace was controlled by a combination of the sprinters’ teams as the peloton rolled towards the bunch sprint at Big Flag, opposite Marina Mall.

The pace steadily ramped up through the final 10km without any one team being able to take control, before Movistar and Sunweb started to seize the front with three kilometres remaining.

Elia Viviani holds a three second advantage in the GC standings.

Elia Viviani holds a three-second advantage in the GC standings.

Movistar’s bid to set up Jose Joaquin Rojas for the sprint was hijacked by Quick-Step who moved to the front in a bid to set up Viviani for a second successive triumph.

He was in perfect position but Bauhaus surged out of his wheel to throw his bike across the line as Marcel Kittel somehow found a route down the left-hand side of the road, coming fast but not fast enough to deny Bauhaus.

“It was a real battle on the line,” added Viviani.

“Saba (Fabio Sabatini) left me with 150m to go so it was a short sprint but with the headwind it’s never easy. It was a big show for the fans but I finished fourth, that’s it. The Germans did a good sprint.”

Viviani had earlier won one of the stage’s intermediate sprints, something the big names rarely get involved in, but the former Team Sky rider revealed he wants to maintain the green points jersey as it is expected the sprinters will fall off the pace with the time trial and Sunday’s ascent up Jebel Hafeet in Al Ain.

“It was a good opportunity to get points for the green jersey as we have the time trial tomorrow and then the climb so I really want to do the sprint for the green jersey at the end of the Tour and be the leader at the end of the stage,” added Viviani, who feels the time trial will be just a little too long for him to have a say.

“The 12km time trial will be a good way to get in better shape, but I think it’s maybe 3km too long to defend the jersey. Eight kilometres would be a good length to defend the jersey, I expect (Tom) Dumoulin or (Danny) Van Poppel will be favourites. I will try and end the weekend in the best way.”

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Phil Bauhaus wins Abu Dhabi Tour Stage 3 and feels like he's finally joined cycling's elite

Matt Jones 23/02/2018
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Phil Bauhaus celebrates Stage 3 victory at the Abu Dhabi Tour.

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.”

The Stage 3 finish at Big Flag was thrilling, with Bauhaus (3rd r) ousting Kittel (r) for victory.

The Stage 3 finish at Big Flag was thrilling, with Bauhaus (3rd r) ousting Kittel (r) for victory.

Bauhaus was born in the same year as two of the best young sprinters in cycling today – Quick-Step FloorsFernando 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.

A photo finish shows just how marginal Bauhaus' win was.

A photo finish shows just how marginal Bauhaus’ win was.

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.”

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