Skydive Dubai’s Soufiane Haddi became the first-ever Arab rider to capture a jersey at the Dubai Tour as the Moroccan snatched the Young Rider’s classification, finishing an impressive 10th overall in the standings.
Haddi, who had claimed the White jersey on day one of the tour, clung onto his slender lead and edged out Al Nasr Pro Cycling’s duo Jesus Arribas Rubio and Luca Wackermann by a mere four and six seconds respectively.
“It was important for me to hold my ground and not celebrate too early. Now that the race is over I can be happy that I have the White jersey. I lost the UAE Flag jersey but I’m proud to have kept at least one,” Haddi told Sport360.
“It’s a great start for me, I want to do more in the future.
“Of course the last stage was tough and the pressure was really high, especially that the time difference between me and the next rider was really small. So it was stressful but the teamwork we did was brilliant and we kept the jersey.”
The top three riders in the White jersey classification came from UAE teams, with Al Nasr joining Skydive Dubai as squadsfrom the Emirates.
Haddi believes the arrival of Al Nasr, who made their debut at the Dubai Tour, is a positive addition to the UAE cycling scene.
“The more professional teams come out of this country the better, that’s how I see it. The competition gets tougher and the image of UAE cycling grows more and more around the world,” said the 25-year-old Haddi.
“Like any rider I dream of becoming a world champion and competing in the Grand Tours against the very best riders. For now, we’re still a Continental team and hopefully next year we’ll get Pro Continental status so we could compete in the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France.
“Tonight we are off to the Tour of Qatar and then I’m off to the African Championships.”
Haddi also has one eye on the Olympics in Rio this August but believes a lot of work needs to be done until then.
“I hope to be one of the three riders selected by Morocco but you never know what form you’ll be in by the time the Olympics come around. So it’s important to stay fit and in good form. I’d love to go to the Olympics, it’s a huge motivation for me this season,” he added.
Movistar rider Juan Jose Lobato dedicated his Dubai Tour stage three victory to his newborn son after the Spaniard clinched a thrilling summit finish on top of Hatta Dam on Friday, which saw Giacomo Nizzolo grab the leader’s jersey.
The third stage witnessed 122 riders traverse 172km from the race headquarters at the Dubai International Marine Club towards Hatta, where a 17-degree gradient final climb took them up to the top of the dam.
Nizzolo of team Trek – Segafredo, who entered the stage just two seconds off blue jersey holder Elia Viviani having scored podium finishes in the opening two stages, crossed the finish line moments after Lobato to leap to the top of the general classification (GC) standings.
Lobato, whose son Jose was born three months ago, also dedicated his triumph to his team-mate who had a heavy crash in the Tour de San Luis in Argentina last month and remains in hospital in South America.
“Adriano is improving bit by bit. He’s feeling better than the first days. He still can’t leave the hospital but we’re hoping he can travel back to Italy in the next few days. Personally, I have two special people I’d like to dedicate my victory to. Firstly it’s my son (Jose Lobato), who was born three months ago and the second is Adriano and I hope he recovers soon,” said Lobato.
“The finale was a bit difficult, the last kilometre was very stressful, my team worked hard for me. I knew that going into the last corner, being well-positioned was going to be very important. Last year I wasn’t able to do that, but this year I was able to be well-positioned and I managed to finish off the job for the team.”
The final kilometres of the queen stage of the Dubai Tour saw intense action between Lobato, Silvan Dillier, Philippe Gilbert, Marcel Kittel and team-mates Nizzolo and Fabian Cancellara.
“This is a finish that suited Fabian (Cancellara) but I’d taken time bonuses in the last two days and so I had carte blanche to ride my own race,” said Nizzolo on edging out his Swiss team-mate.
“We rode well together as a team to ensure we were both up there. We tried to do our best and second and fourth is a pretty good result.
“I was waiting for Gilbert and Cancellara to blow the race apart but when Lobato went so strongly, I knew I had to go too. He was super strong and I could only limit the damage.
“It’s another podium finish for me and I’m satisfied because I’m in the leader’s jersey and we’ve got a good chance of winning overall. My consistency is a sign that I’ve worked hard this winter.”
Ettix-Quick-Step sprinter Kittel put in a massive effort to conquer the steep final climb up the Hatta Dam to come in sixth place and collapsed on the ground upon arrival as he tried to catch his breath.
For a second there Kittel, the winner of stage one, thought he had taken over the leader’s blue jersey and was seen high-fiving his team-mates but he fell just short and he now lies in third place in the GC, six seconds behind Nizzolo and four off second-placed Lobato.
“I knew I could do it,” said Kittel of the final climb.
“This finish was more important for me than yesterday’s finish. I didn’t get the jersey but everything is still possible tomorrow. It’s going to be a last sprint, so we’ll go full gas and see what happens.”
Defending champion Mark Cavendish suffered a puncture late in the stage that dented his chances while his Dimension Data team-mate Bernhard Eisel crashed in the feed-zone and fractured his clavicle.
“Not often I’m top15 over a decisive climb. So when I am, a puncture on the descent’s a good way to bring me back down to earth,” tweeted Cavendish after the stage.
There was reason to celebrate for both home teams, Skydive Dubai and Al Nasr Pro Cycling.
Skydive’s Soufiane Haddi retained his young riders’ white jersey after crossing the finish line in 13th place, to lie in 10th in the GC, while Al Nasr’s Essaid Abelouache, who was in the breakaway throughout the stage, took one of the intermediate sprints.
“It was the toughest stage of the race, it was really really tough, it was very windy and the climb at the end was difficult and the average speed was quite high. But thankfully my team-mates worked really hard and it went well,” Haddi told Sport360.
“I didn’t think I would keep the white jersey but in cycling anything can happen. There can be crashes, there can be other things, so luck plays a big factor, along with strength and team work and all this helped me keep the jersey.”
The fourth and final stage of the Dubai Tour on Saturday will take the riders from the Dubai International Marine Club towards Burj Khalifa passing through both Old and New Town in the emirate.
One year after winning Stage 2 of the Dubai Tour at Palm Jumeirah in front of the magnificent Atlantis hotel, Italian sprinter Viviani of Team Sky repeated his victory as he edged out his compatriots Sacha Modolo (Lampre – Merida), Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek – Segafredo) and Andrea Guardini (Astana Pro Team).
Viviani also succeeded Marcel Kittel (Etixx – Quick Step) in the lead of the overall classification on the eve of the queen stage to Hatta Dam.
Four riders contested most of the race at the front, including Skydive Dubai – Al Ahli Club’s Francisco Manchebo.
Koen de Kort (Team Giant – Alpecin), Silvan Dillier (BMC Racing Team) and Marcin Bialoblocki (One Pro Cycling) also contested, with the latter winning all intermediate sprints to claim the dedicated UAE flag jersey.