Rohan Dennis of BMC Racing clinched the Abu Dhabi Tour‘s individual time trial stage on Saturday and moved into the overall lead.
The Australian navigated around the flat 12.6km course starting and finishing on Al Maryah Island with a stunning time of 14 minutes and 21 seconds.
Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) struggled for pace during the time trial, and lost the red leader’s jersey.
Dennis is now top of the general classification ahead of Jonathan Castroviejo (Team Sky), with Miles Scotson (BMC Racing) in third and Jos van Emden (LottoNL-Jumbo) in fourth.
The Abu Dhabi Tour finishes on Sunday with stage five, a gruelling 199km ride from Qasr Al Muwaiji to the soaring Jebel Hafeet.
More to follow…
Luke Rowe won’t have turned many heads at the Abu Dhabi Tour – finishes of 96th, 102nd and 135th in the Emirates hardly scream headline news.
But it is the Welshman’s presence in the UAE capital itself that is newsworthy. The Team Sky rider lined up for the Tour’s Stage 1 on Wednesday just six months since suffering 25 different fractures to his right leg after jumping into a shallow section of water while white-water rafting on his brother Matt’s stag do in Prague.
He had a metal rod inserted into his leg during surgery and doctors initially advised him that he was facing a lengthy absence out of the sport – if he ever rode again at all.
But the 27-year-old Cardiff native wasn’t having any of that, although he admits saddling up in Abu Dhabi this week was beyond his wildest dreams – he had initially slated his return for the Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast in April.
“It’s so far ahead of schedule, I shouldn’t be here really,” Rowe said at the finish line of Stage 3 on Abu Dhabi’s Corniche on Friday.
“It’s basically half the recovery time. But not only am I back, but I’m going alright too. It was a straightforward day. Another day in the bag which is nice.”
The prognosis looked bleak, but by November he was back aboard his bike. In December he linked up with Team Sky at a training camp. And by January he confirmed his readiness to return to action, and settled upon the Abu Dhabi Tour as the starting point for his 2018 campaign.
Rowe admitted he had the best care and support during and after his ordeal, but that he wouldn’t have returned so soon without plenty of will and hard work.
“It’s a mix of everything as to why I’m back so soon,” he said.
“I’ve had the best of the best. Everything around me has been the best of the best, the staff, equipment, but the most important thing is you’ve got to put the work in. Your body isn’t going to heal itself, you have to help it, so it’s a mix. I haven’t really done anything special to be here.”
Just touched down in Abu Dhabi. Looking forward to pinning a number on months before I thought it would be possible, mega 👌🏻 https://t.co/LsmGAPLIyN— Luke Rowe (@LukeRowe1990) 19 February 2018
Going forward Rowe could find himself among Sky’s cobbled Classics team. He led the group over previous seasons alongside Ian Stannard, Geraint Thomas, Michal Kwiatkowski and Gianni Moscon.
In 2017, he placed sixth in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and third in third in the Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, the early Belgian Classics, which take place this weekend.
In 2016, he was sixth in the Tour of Flanders. However, he is not yet calling up the team to reserve a spot for him on the roster. In fact, his schedule right now extends only as far as the final day of the Tour on Sunday.
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.
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.
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.