Mohammed Al Mansoori of UAE National Team has rollercoaster day in Dubai Tour

Jay Asser 6/02/2018
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Mohammed Al Mansoori (second right) in the five-man breakaway.

Though he was left licking literal wounds after crossing the finish line in the opening stage of the Dubai Tour, Mohammed Al Mansoori made good on the UAE National Team’s aggressive approach.

A late crash inside the final 10 kilometres from Skydive Dubai to Palm Jumeirah on day one meant Al Mansoori unjustly crossed in 108th place out of 110 cyclists to finish.

But Al Mansoori was part of all the right action for most of the race as he jumped out in the breakaway group, along with Andy Fenn (Aqua Blue Sport), Daniel Teklehaimanot (Cofidis), Nathan Van Hooydonck (BMC Racing) and Charles Planet (Novo Nordisk).

The breakaway ambition was part of a plan handed down to UAE National Team riders ahead of the stage and Al Mansoori followed through to put his nation’s colours in a share of the early limelight.

“Before the race, the coach told us ‘you must break away’ and we tried until we reached it,” Al Mansoori said.

Somewhat predictably, the breakaway couldn’t stave off the peloton as Al Mansoori and the others were eventually swallowed up by the charging brigade.

What couldn’t be foreseen, however, was the crash in the middle of Palm Jumeirah that wiped out several riders, with Al Mansoori knocked off his bike in the carnage.

Though he couldn’t remember exactly how it unfolded, Al Mansoori was disappointed that the collision meant a sour finish for him and his team.

“We had a crash and we couldn’t stay in the peloton. Three (UAE National Team) riders got caught in the crash with about eight kilometres left.”

Fortunately for Al Mansoori, his injuries didn’t require a trip to hospital or affect his humour as he said with a laugh: “I’m okay, better than yesterday.”

Now in his fourth Dubai Tour, Al Mansoori can check off a box on his list after being part of the breakaway for the first time in the event on home soil.

But it may not be his last as he fully expects his team’s approach to remain unchanged in the coming stages.

Al Mansoori said: “We will try to make another attack to take the UAE flag jersey (for intermediate sprint).”

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Dylan Groenewegen continues rise with opening stage win in Dubai Tour

Jay Asser 6/02/2018
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Dylan Groenewegen celebrates atop the podium after claiming stage one of the Dubai Tour.

If there still was any doubt, Dylan Groenewegen dispelled the notion he’s not arrived among cycling’s elite sprinters as he beat some of the best in the sport to capture the opening stage of the Dubai Tour.

Rubbing elbows with several top sprinters on a flat course from Skydive Dubai to Palm Jumeirah, Groenewegen (Team LottoNL-Jumbo) edged the bunch sprint finish to take early control of the leader’s blue jersey as the Tour got under way on Tuesday.

Rounding out the colours of his nation’s flag, the Dutchman’s victory also netted him the red jersey for the points classification and the white jersey for top young rider.

Groenewegen’s final push in the last 200 metres was enough to give him a narrow win over pursuer Magnus Cort Nielsen (Astana Pro Team), while Olympic gold medalist Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) completed the podium.

In a race that featured the likes of Viviani, two-time Dubai Tour reigning champion Marcel Kittel and veteran Mark Cavendish – the latter two finished outside the top 10 – 24-year-old Groenewegen made it clear his victory on the final stage of last year’s Tour de France was no fluke.

Asked by a reporter afterwards if he’s bothered his name isn’t mentioned more among the top sprinters and up-and-comers, Groenewegen replied with a succinct, confident answer: “I’m winning now.”

He added: “It’s great to win here because there are a lot of good sprinters. I came close every day last year but I didn’t win. I came second twice and I’m glad to start this new season on the right foot, thanks to the good job by my team.

“Quick-Step made it a very hard sprint by setting a high speed from far out but I launched my sprint with 200m to go. It was very tight at the end but went in my favour. It feels good to win my first stage this year, especially with the high level of sprinters who are here.”

Groenewegen was part of a chasing peloton in pursuit of a five-man breakaway, which consisted of Andrew Fenn (Aqua Blue Sport), Daniel Teklehaimanot (Cofidis), Mohammed Al Mansoori (UAE), Nathan Van Hooydonck (BMC Racing) and Charles Planet (Novo Nordisk).

After the peloton caught up with lone survivor Fenn in the final 10km, the battle shifted to being between Quick-Step Floors and Katusha-Alpecin near the front. But Groenewegen received help from team-mates Amund Grondahl Jansen and Timo Roosen to set up his sprint finish in the final metres.

“They have done a really good job and I owe them many thanks,” Groenewegen said. “It was pushy, but I had a good lead-out.”

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Kittel's Dubai Tour title defence off to slow start and other stage 1 takeaways

Jay Asser 6/02/2018
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Cyclists roll through Dubai in the Tour's opening stage.

An exciting sprint finish concluded the opening stage of the Dubai Tour, with Dylan Groenewegen edging the bunch to top the podium on the first day.

The Dutchman from Team LottoNL-Jumbo emerged from a field that came on late as the peloton closed the gap on leader Andrew Fenn.

Here are four observations and takeaways from day one of the Tour:

Rough start for reigning champion

No-one has dominated the Dubai Tour quite like Marcel Kittel, with the German sprint king having won the past two editions with relative ease.

But Kittel’s defence of the crown and quest for a three-peat got off to a less than ideal start as he cruised over the line well behind the top finishers.

Racing in red as he made his debut with Katusha-Alpecin, Kittel sputtered out towards the end when he suffered a “technical problem”, which he didn’t expound on. It appeared as if he was in a favourable position for the bunch sprint, with his team-mates helping to clear a path, but it was ultimately a disappointing end to the day for the 29-year-old.

It’s been rare to see Kittel not featured on the podium in Dubai, where he claimed three of the four stages that took place last year (stage four in Hatta was cancelled due to strong winds) and two of the four in 2016. Kittel has worn the leader’s jersey after the opening stage in each of the past two years, so it will be interesting to see how he responds when having to make up ground.

Cavendish out of form

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Mark Cavendish wasn’t one of the primary riders in the bunch sprint finish on Stage 1.

The Manxman tempered expectations ahead of the tour, cautioning that his fitness may not be where he wants it to be just yet, with Dubai the site of his first race of the season.

And the first stage was nothing to write home about for Cavendish as he finished outside of the top 10, with his Dimension Data team unable to give Katusha-Alpecin or Quick-Step Floors much of a scare in the front of the bunch.

Cavendish still has the Tour of Oman next week and the Abu Dhabi Tour the week after that, so expect him to progressively ramp up his form with the aim of peaking by July, when he’ll take aim at his ultimate goal, the Tour de France.

Fenn goes for it

The flat nature of Stage 1, and the Dubai Tour in general, is such that it means the peloton is almost always within range of the breakaway group.

That didn’t stop Andrew Fenn from taking his shot on day one, however, as the Briton from Aqua Blue Sport seized an opening to be the man to chase down the stretch.

Fenn was initially part of the five-man breakaway that included Daniel Teklehaimanot (Cofidis), Nathan Van Hooydonck (BMC Racing), Charles Planet (Novo Nordisk) and Mohammed Al Mansoori (UAE). Fenn and Planet separated from the group Inside of the final 20 kilometeres before the former made a push while the latter dragged.

Fenn did all he could to keep up the pace, but eventually the chasing teams of Katusha and Quick-Step closed the gap and overtook him inside the final 10km.

While he couldn’t finish inside the top 10, Fenn’s aggressiveness at least made him the man to beat for a good portion of the stage, even if his demise was predictable.

Taking notice

Considering how new the Dubai Tour is and its place in the UAE sporting calendar, it’s no small feat that it caught the attention of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai.

Sheikh Mohammed was spotted on day one of the Tour in a car along the race route, speaking with Saeed Hareb, Dubai Sports Council general secretary, and checking out the race guide booklet.

You can’t get a bigger stamp of approval in the emirate than from Sheikh Mohammed himself and his interest in the event is an indication of how far the Tour has come since launching in 2014.

While it may not be on the level of the Dubai World Cup or the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the Tour continues to grow alongside cycling’s evolution in the UAE.

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