Italian rider Elia Viviani, of Quick-Step Floors, won Stage 2 of the fifth edition of the Dubai Tour on Wednesday, out-sprinting Stage 1 winner Dylan Groenewegen (Team Lotto NL - Jumbo).
However, the Dutchman retains his overall lead but Viviani is now just two seconds behind.
Viviani, who was disappointed to miss out on victory in the first stage, suffered a puncture with 20 kilometres left in Stage 2, but recovered to secure the stage win. The Italian is celebrating his 29th birthday, and the result on the track was certainly a well-earned birthday gift.
He made his move with 200 metres remaining, holding off Mark Cavendish - who finished fourth - and the accelerating Groenewegen at the end, taking victory by just over half a bike's length.
Riccardo Minali of Team Astana finished third in the stage, just ahead of Dimension Data's Cavendish.
Birthday boy Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) won Stage 2 of the 2018 Dubai Tour, from Skydive Dubai to Ras Al Khaimah (190km), in a bunch sprint.
At the finish line he snatched victory from Dylan Groenewegen (Team Lotto NL – Jumbo), who remains in the lead of the overall General Classification. Third across the line was Astana’s Riccardo Minali.
Speaking seconds after the stage finish, Italy’s Viviani, who celebrated a win alongside his 29th birthday, said: “Having my birthday today added to my motivation. Losing yesterday was also good for my head.
“Overnight we felt like we missed one chance that would never be given back. I feel I’m in good condition and have the legs for winning. I had a mechanical (issue) but luckily it was with 20km to go and I had time to come back.
“With 500m to go, my lead out man Fabio Sabatini closed the gap. I chose (Alexander) Kristoff’s wheel. I saw Groenewegen coming back with 50 meters but finally the line was in the right place for me to win. I’m pretty happy.”
GC leader and blue Jersey wearer Groenewegen said: “It’s very hard to come only second today after winning yesterday. I had mechanical problems with my first bike, and also with the second 1.5km before the finish.
“That’s how I lost my sprint train and I came very late to the front for sprinting. The only good point for today is that I’m still in the lead of the overall classification but I wanted to win the stage.”
Blue Jersey, sponsored by the Commercial Bank of Dubai (General Classification) – Dylan Groenewegen (Team Lotto NL – Jumbo)
Red Jersey, sponsored by Emirates (Points) – Dylan Groenewegen (Team Lotto NL – Jumbo)
White Jersey, sponsored by RTA – Roads and Transport Authority (Best Young Rider) – Dylan Groenewegen (Team Lotto NL – Jumbo)
UAE Flag Jersey, sponsored by DHA – Dubai Health Authority (Intermediate Sprints) – Nathan Van Hooydonck (BMC Racing Team)
Stage 3 – Dubai Silicon Oasis Stage (180km)
From Skydive Dubai to Ras Al Khaimah
Finish: Approx 15.05
Wearing the UAE colours for the first time, the Norwegian was just short of being in on the bunch sprint finish that saw Dylan Groenewegen (Team LottoNL-Jumbo) claim the stage from Skydive Dubai to Palm Jumeirah, with Magnus Cort Nielsen (Astana Pro Team) and Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) and Nathan Van Hooydonck (BMC Racing) also separating Kristoff from the leader.
While the 30-year-old managed to avoid the late crash that sent several riders tumbling to the pavement, he couldn’t capitalise by pushing the pace when it mattered and that was ultimately the difference in making the podium and finishing just off of it.
“I’m happy to have the support of the team in what is my UAE Team Emirates debut. It was a pretty chaotic sprint finish because the race was easy for the majority of the course and it’s always more difficult in the final kilometres when everybody’s fresh,” said the reigning European Road Race champion.
“My teammates led me out well and I managed to avoid the crash, but unfortunately, I had to break in the final hundred metres, when I was focused on pushing forward. But, despite this, I am satisfied with the performance for my first race of 2018.”
“I’m happy to have the support of the team in what is my #UAETeamEmirates debut.” Said @Kristoff87 after finished a respectable fourth place in what was a thrilling sprint finish during stage 1 of the #DubaiTour 🇦🇪.— @UAE-TeamEmirates (@TeamUAEAbuDhabi) February 6, 2018
Asked why he had to brake down the stretch, Kristoff replied: “People were left and right and suddenly you have a clear shot for the finish, you look down and sprint, then you look up and suddenly it’s not clear anymore. There were many times like this.”
Kristoff has now gotten his feet wet with his new team after previously riding for Katusha-Alpecin, a side he jostled with as a foe at the end of the first stage.
Though the crash unfortunately took out one of his co-riders, the UAE’s own Yousif Mirza, the European champion was pleased with the on-course chemistry on display between him and his team-mates.
“I think we worked well together,” Kristoff said. “They got me in position, unfortunately I had to brake a bit, but the position was not so bad. So it’s quite a good start and we’ll continue to work like this.”
Mirza helped assist Kristoff for most of the race, but couldn’t escape when a collision caused the crash inside the final 10km.
The four-time reigning UAE national champion entered the season with high hopes after getting professional racing experience under his belt with UAE Team Emirates in 2017, who made him the first Emirati to ride for a UCI WorldTour team after his stint with Al Nasr Pro Cycling Team-Dubai.
However, the opening stage didn’t go Mirza’s way and he had to settle for 107th place out of 110 riders who finished.
“It’s a pity that the Dubai Tour began with a little bit of bad luck for me,” Mirza said. “I was trying to give my support to the team in order to help Kristoff approach the sprint in the best possible position, but the riders in front of me crashed and I could not avoid them.
“Luckily there were no serious injuries and we can look ahead to tomorrow’s stage, where we hope to have more of the amazing support that we witnessed today.”