When you’ve worked hard for so long for your team-mates, you know that when the day comes and you need them to back you up, they will most certainly be there for you.
And that is precisely what happened with in the Abu Dhabi Tour on Saturday as he stormed to a brilliant stage win at the top of Jebel Hafeet in Al Ain to grab the overall leader’s jersey from Mark Cavendish heading into Sunday’s fourth and final stage.
Riding for an Astana team that features four-time Grand Tour champion Vincenzo Nibali, Kangert is accustomed to his role as a domestique and helped the Italian win the Tour de France in 2014, as well as the Giro d’Italia in 2013 and 2016.
But on Saturday during the 150km stage from Al Ain to the summit of Jebel Hafeet, the roles were reversed and it was Kangert who was given free rein and Nibali was there to support him.
The Estonian pulled off an impressive solo finish, after dropping Team Sky’s Nicolas Roche in the final kilometres of the brutal 11km climb that concluded the stage, and rose to the top of the General Classification.
“He (Nibali) told me that it’s his turn to help now, he did a good job behind,” Kangert said of his Astana team-mate, who is moving to Bahrain-Merida in 2017.
“I have to thank my team because I really had the liberty to do whatever I wanted so we had good cards to play with me and Vincenzo.
“The team really did a good job, I know it sounds like a cliché that every rider always thanks the team but today really, we committed, we started to ride from the beginning.
“At least me, myself, I ride quite fresh in the last climb and I knew that I had the chance. The team already told me at the beginning that I have the GC here so I stayed concentrated after the TTT in Qatar. I came here planning to do a good GC. I knew that top-10 should be doable. If I’m lucky, maybe in top-five but to win here is even more special.”
Nibali crossed the finish line in sixth place on the wheels of fellow Grand Tour great, Alberto Contador, 50 seconds behind Kangert. The Italian is riding his final race with Astana, after five years with the Kazakh outfit, and is happy their last outing together is a successful one.
“Tanel is a really nice guy. On lots of occasions he’s dug deep to help me and helped me win some of my biggest victories, including the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France. This win means a lot for him and we’re happy that he won, that the Astana team won too. This victory and my good performance is a kind of a farewell gift for me too,” said Nibali after the stage.
It’s evident the pair share lots of respect for one another and Kangert described his time riding with Nibali as an “honour”. He’s also aware that with Nibali leaving the team, there could be more opportunities for himself.
“I think we had a good four years together, the whole team,” said the 29-year-old.
“I hope he enjoyed his time in Astana also because we have had great moments and great results.
“Vincenzo is always laid back and not stressing and he’s giving a lot of confidence to riders like me. I have been honoured to ride for him.
“Next year, for sure things will change, we still have good riders like Fabio (Aru) but I guess I have to try to do more of my own racing also in the future.”
Olympic champion Greg van Avermaet of BMC and Trek-Segafredo’s Marco Coledan were the first two to successfully breakaway in the third stage, racing clear 11km in to the contest. They were caught by Evgeny Shalunov (Gazprom-RusVelo) and Michael O’Loughlin (Wiggins) 5km later. By km 24, the quartet were 3min 27sec ahead of the peloton.
The peloton eventually broke into four different groups as Team Sky’s riders made a move for the riders in the break. The first group, that included red jersey holder Mark Cavendish as well as Nibali, caught up with the breakaway at km 114, with the second group 1min 33sec behind.
After a series of attacks and counter-attacks, Carlos Verona was inches ahead as the riders approached Jebel Hafeet but Kangert and Roche swept past him as they commenced the tough climb. A small group including Contador, Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida), Nibali, Mekseb Debesay (Dimension Data), were keeping close distance. As Kangert dropped Roche, Debesay attacked but no one was able to stop the Estonian from getting his much-deserved crowning moment.
Contador, who wasn’t initially planning on competing in Abu Dhabi but changed his mind in September, said he was far from surprised by Kangert’s result.
“If you look at some of my interviews, I said that for me the favourites were Nibali, (Ben) Hermans and also Kangert. He’s very skinny and the final was a true climb,” said the Spanish Tinkoff rider, who joins Trek-Segafredo in 2017.
“The climb was hard, especially that I didn’t have a very good condition. But I knew that when I arrived to Abu Dhabi that I’d only need to enjoy the race and I’ve been enjoying all the days in this country.
“The feeling in my legs was not bad. Maybe I needed someone to ride a higher tempo for me to get the two guys in the front but I’m happy, though, we were more or less in the front, it’s good for the team. Sunday is the last day of the season, and then we can start to look at 2017.”
Cavendish lost the leader’s red jersey, crossing the finish line in 26th place, 8min 45 sec behind Kangert, but the Manxman retained the Points Classification green jersey, and will be looking to add a second stage win of the Abu Dhabi Tour in the finale at Yas Marina Circuit.
Frenchman Julien Bernard of Trek-Segafredo overtook the young riders’ white jersey thanks to finishing seventh, 52sec off the lead.
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