Alexander Kristoff continued his strong start to life at UAE Team Emirates as he secured a fourth-place finish in the first big classic of the season, the Milan-San Remo.
The reigning European Champion survived an early crash to finish just outside the podium places, behind Australian Caleb Ewan and France’s Arnaud Demare.
Vincenzo Nibali made a late solo break to win the race – the first time an Italian rider has won since Filippo Pozzato in 2006.
The 2014 Tour de France winner, nicknamed ‘The Shark’, shook off the sprint favourites on the Poggio hill 10km from home in the 294km race through north-western Italy.
It was a commendable performance nonetheless from Kristoff, who said: “I’m pretty upset for not being able to get on the podium, but on the other hand, I can’t help but be content for this fourth place since I pulled out of Paris-Nice with the flu.”
“During the race, I didn’t feel super. On the Cipressa, my legs felt empty, then on the Poggio, it seemed to me that I was slightly better, but in the sprint, my legs weren’t that great.
“This is a fourth place different from last year since I won the sprint behind the escape of three riders. If I repeated that this time, I would’ve been second.
“The podium was my minimum goal, but since I didn’t have super legs, this placing is not that bad either. Now, I’ll concentrate on the Northern Classics.”
Meanwhile, best for UAE Team Emirates were: Ben Swift (54th), Simone Consonni (93rd), Diego Ulissi (103rd) and Filippo Ganna (161st).
UAE Team Emirates announced a super-seven line up for Saturday’s Milan-San Remo race, with Abu Dhabi Tour stage winner and reigning European Champion, Alexander Kristoff leading the team as they look to secure their first race win of the 2018 UCI World Tour season.
Kristoff, who is aiming to add to his 2014 Milan-San Remo victory, will be supported by an experienced team including; Diego Ulissi, Marco Marcato and Ben Swift, the latter of whom has finished on the podium twice in this race – third in 2014 and 2nd in 2016.
Joining them will be the promising young trio of Oliviero Troia, Simone Consonni and Sven Erik Bystrøm. The riders will be guided along the 300km route by Sports Director Mario Scirea and his colleague Marco Marzano.
Kristoff is targeting the Spring Classic as one of his main goals for 2018. “I’ve always really liked Milan-San Remo and its appeal increased when I won in 2014. I already have a number of races under my belt already this season and have set up so that I can be in top form for the Spring Classics. I’ve been held back by a few health issues and at the beginning of Paris-Nice I had some days where I didn’t feel very well, but I think I’m better now and I’ve been working hard to get back to full fitness. I am 100 per cent focused on this race. The objective is to figure as a major player and I’m confident I have the right team to support me and put me in a strong position.”
With a distance of 300km to tackle, Milan-Sanremo is the longest one-day race of the year and a huge test for riders so early in the season. The course, the first of the five cycling monuments, remains unchanged from last year, with riders departing from Milan and heading south-west to the Mediterranean coast.
The opening 150km of the race could be an opportunity for the breakaway to build up a considerable lead on the peloton, before the race opens up as riders reach the coast. Five short climbs in the final 55km could have a big influence on the race outcome, but the world-class sprinters of this year’s tour should be able to attack them and provide fans with a thrilling sprint finish on the flat 2km run-in to San Remo.
A top official says they have ambitious plans of making the UAE Tour ‘one of the very best races’ on the UCI calendar following the merger of the Abu Dhabi Tour and Dubai Tour.
The UAE Tour was announced on Wednesday in Abu Dhabi after a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between Abu Dhabi Sports Council and Dubai Sports Council.
Ever since the Dubai Tour and Abu Dhabi Tour were launched in 2014 and 2015 respectively, the races have gone from strength to strength and become pinnacle events on the UAE sporting calendar.
Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel are among the high-profile names to have travelled to the Emirate in recent years. And Aref Al Awani, general secretary of Abu Dhabi Sports Council, is convinced they are ready for the challenge of making the UAE Tour as one of the elite races on the UCI World Tour schedule.
“Yes, that is what we want to do,” he told Sport360. “We know the UCI calendar is very strong and it has the three Grand Tour races – Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana. They are all very big races on the calendar that attracts the best riders.
“Our aim is to make the UAE Tour one of the best races after those Tour races on the World Tour calendar. We want this race to be very attractive for all the riders and make it the most important race on the calendar so that all the big names will continue coming to the country.”
The inaugural race is set to be held in February 2019 over seven days with the initial route consisting of seven stages. Al Awani is hopeful that each of the UAE’s seven emirates will host a stage or be a passing point.
“We are hoping that all the seven Emirates will have a stage whether that is hosting a stage or seeing the riders go past,” said Al Awani, who said they will submit the plans including the name change to the UCI. “We want the the riders to pass most of the towns. For instance, the last time we hosted the Abu Dhabi Tour, we passed eight towns in the capital, so this is the same aim for the UAE Tour.
“We want to elevate the race by becoming a seven stage race, representing the seven emirates in the country. The number 7 is very special for us and it will be a race for everybody.”
The UAE are no strangers to hosting elite competitions with the Formula One, Dubai World Cup and Rugby Sevens among the most high-profile events.
And Al Awani says the UAE Tour will put the country on the sporting map and enhance their image of being a major sporting hub.
“Sport has been one of the strongest tourism tools for the UAE and sport is escalating every year,” he added. “It’s very attractive and lucrative for us. Developing this race and making sure it’s held across the country is very important to us as it widens the scope.
“For sure, it will help the UAE overall and most importantly will benefit the community in spreading the awareness of cycling and raising the profile of the sport.”