Magnus Cort Nielsen has debut to remember for Astana at Dubai Tour

Jay Asser 10/02/2018
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Magnus Cort Nielsen celebrates in the white jersey at the end of the Dubai Tour.

If first impressions are everything, Astana will be ecstatic with what they saw from Magnus Cort Nielsen as his debut with the team brought a best young rider honour at the Dubai Tour.

In addition to claiming the white jersey, the 25-year-old Dane also made general classification winner Elia Viviani sweat as he trailed by just two seconds entering the final day.

The late crash on the final turn of stage five did Cort Nielsen no favours, but he appeared too far behind in the peloton to challenge Viviani in the straight anyways.

With the bonuses factored in, Cort Nielsen finished 12 seconds behind Viviani for second overall, while Bahrain Merida’s Sonny Colbrelli rounded out the podium another two seconds behind.

Despite missing out on the Circle of Stars trophy, Cort Nielsen was pleased with what he managed to accomplish in his season and team debut.

“It means a lot,” he said. “Also with second place, I’m very happy, especially because it’s my first race with Astana. So it’s very, very nice to start not only the season, but a new time of my career with a new team to show that I’m ready, I want to race and they can trust me.

“Astana was searching for someone like me and I’m very happy to be here.”

After impressing early on, Cort Nielsen has high hopes for the Classics, which he views as his ultimate goal.

“That’s just real cycling,” he said. “Those are the biggest races to win, with the most prestige, from my point of view. Therefore, that’s where I dream about doing well and see them as the biggest races.”

It was a breakthrough for Team Novo Nordisk at the Dubai Tour, meanwhile, as Quentin Valognes earned the intermediate sprint crown for the outfit’s most significant win to date.

The team, who consist of riders with diabetes and raise awareness for the disease, saw Frenchman Valognes secure the UAE jersey by jumping out in the breakaway, where he finished second in the first intermediate sprint before winning the do-or-die final sprint for the title.

Chris Williams and Charles Planet also entered stage five in contention for the intermediate sprint and the Tour overall showcased just how far Team Novo Nordisk have come since turning professional in 2008.

“I don’t have enough words in English or French or any language to explain,” Valognes said. “Our mission is to better educate people on diabetes. By this kind of performance, we’re doing it more so it’s an awesome feeling.”

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Mark Cavendish "very, very happy" with his form after establishing good foundation at Dubai Tour

Jay Asser 10/02/2018
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Mark Cavendish celebrates atop the podium after winning stage three of the Dubai Tour.

Though Mark Cavendish‘s success at the Dubai Tour was limited to a stage win and no jersey to show for it, he’s satisfied with how he fared in his first race of the season.

After reaching the top of the podium with a victory on day three, the Manxman was out of the mix in the final two stages and couldn’t repeat his 2015 general classification triumph.

But the 32-year-old leaves Dubai in good spirits, having established a foundation for the rest of the season.

“I’m pretty happy,” said the Team Dimension Data rider. “Like today (stage five), the team were wicked there. Actually I lost [Mark] Renshaw with 1km to go, but apart from that, the team did exactly what I asked them to do and were on spot on. You see the difference from the first stage, so I’m very, very happy.”

Cavendish will remain in the region as he now turns his attention to the Tour of Oman, which begins Tuesday, before competing in his beloved Tour of Abu Dhabi, staged from February 21-25.

The events will serve to build up his fitness ahead of his ultimate goal of notching more stage victories at the Tour de France in July.

“I’m going to Oman to get the workload in really. Abu Dhabi is the big target [for the Middle East],” Cavendish said. “It would be nice to win in Oman, but…

“It wasn’t originally on my calendar, but it would be the same workload as home anyway, I just miss the traveling so I might as well stay.”

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Elia Viviani wins Dubai Tour to move one step closer to goal of being top sprinter

Jay Asser 10/02/2018
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Elia Viviani crosses the finish line for the stage five victory and the Dubai Tour title.

Elia Viviani may feel he still has more to do to be considered one of the best sprinters in cycling, but his commanding performance to sweep away his rivals and claim the Dubai Tour crown undoubtedly strengthened his case.

After entering the final stage with a minuscule two-second lead in the general classification, the Italian signed off in style and left nothing to chance by winning the final day to seal the Circle of Stars trophy.

While previous winners Marcel Kittlel – previously the two-time reigning champion – and Mark Cavendish – victorious in 2015 – failed to compete for the podium, Viviani was at his best to keep a tight hold of the leader’s blue jersey and also finish with the red jersey for the points classification.

The 29-year-old already had a Olympic gold medal to his name and the honour of being a European track champion, but his decision to join Quick-Step Floors from Team Sky ahead of the new season was a switch made out of an ambition to be at the top of his sport.

“When I signed with Quick-Step Floors, it was definitely a big step up. I felt after the last part of the season last year, I really believed I can do this step up into the road race. I want to become one of the best sprinters in the world and this is the best team to be on to try that,” Viviani said.

“Classics are the main goal but winning sprints is my job and with this team it’s much easier than with all the other teams.

“This start of the season is a good way for me to step up into being one of the best in the world and maybe one of the best Italian riders.”

As dominant as he was among a strong field of riders in Dubai, Viviani believes he still has more to accomplish to truly have his name mentioned among the premier sprinters.

“I really want to win more than I win until now,” he said. “I’m not a poor sprinter, but I want to really want to be a sprinter who can win Classics. With this team, I really want to take the best result I can also in the Grand Tour. The main goal now is to win Classics, but go to the Grand Tour with a strong team to take however many stages I can win in the Giro, Vuelta and Tour.

“But yeah, I think I need to win more bigger races to feel like a really big champion in cycling.”

While the final stage was icing on the cake in a week which also featured a victory on his birthday (stage two), Viviani’s main concern on Saturday was fending off Magnus Cort Nielsen, who was just two seconds behind in the standings.

A chaotic finish, however, spurred by a late crash on the final corner that took out Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) and slowed down others, opened the door for Viviani to push for the victory.

Quick-Step Floors’ Fabio Sabatini did well to guide his team-mate through the mess, with their inside position on the turn keeping them away from the wreckage, and set up a bunch sprint finish in which Viviani turned on the jets in the straight to edge Marco Haller (Katusha-Alpecin) and Adam Blythe (Aqua Blue Sport) at the line.

“There was a lot of thinking in my head in the last 200 metres because I checked if anyone in the front four guys was involved with the GC. If I had Cort Nielsen on the wheel, I was pretty worried to go down with a long sprint because he could pick me at the line and that is not a good finish,” Viviani said.

“But when I see these four guys in front of me and 100m to go, I say “okay, I try everything and maybe I finish fifth, but I win the GC’. With 50m to go, I went double speed and could also win the stage so it was a good feeling.”

Having begun his season with three stage wins (one at Santos Tour Down Under) and a title, Viviani is on his way to becoming one of the top sprinters in the world – if he isn’t already.

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