John Degenkolb's consistency in the Dubai Tour sprints sent a clear message to his Classics rivals: the German is back to his best, has worked hard during the winter and is ready to challenge for victory in all the spring Monuments, from Milan-San Remo to Paris-Roubaix.
Degenkolb finished fourth, fourth, first and fifth in the sprints at the Dubai Tour, winning the hardest finish in al Aqah after an hour of intense racing in difficult conditions. His consistency also earned him third place overall and a moment on the final podium alongside former teammate, and compatriot, Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) and second placed Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo)
Degenkolb beat Reinardt Janse van Rensburg (Dimension Data), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) and Juan Jose Lobato (LottoNL-Jumbo) with a perfectly timed effort to win his stage. He let out a roar of celebration and pointed to the sky after crossing the line. It was only his third victory since coming back from the dramatic injury last January, when he, and several Giant-Alpecin teammates were hit by a car while training in Spain.
"It was a very positive week for me. I finished every stage in the top five and that means I can go home feeling good," Degenkolb told the journalists at the race after the podium ceremony.
"We won a stage and that was the goal for the week. It didn't work out every time but that's cycling."
Trek-Segafredo's sprint strategy
In the other finishes, Degenkolb was unable to get the better of Kittel but was always in the thick of the action. The Trek-Segafredo team tested their sprint strategy each day, indicating they plan to come late and fast, with two or three riders leading Degenkolb up to the head of the peloton in the final kilometre.
Sometimes the Trek-Segafredo plans became unstuck but it wasn't for a lack of trying and the other teams will be concerned by their strength in depth and sprint tactics.
"It was hard to stay together, and make a good leadout," Degenkolb admitted after the last stage.
"We lost each other already with three kilometres to go. We tried to improvise the best we could, and in the end, it was Kiel Reijnen who delivered me still in an okay position into the last corner on Marcel's wheel. Then there was some confusion as Cavendish let a gap go to Renshaw, and that caused a kind of traffic jam in front of me, and I couldn't really start the sprint. Marcel picked the right moment to go out and did a long sprint, he was the strongest by far anyway, but I think I could have done better than fifth.
"It was another lesson for the team in working for the leadout. The team can be proud of what we achieved this week, and I am very happy with the trust that the team has in me."
Degenkolb heads home to Germany but will back on the road at the Volta ao Algarve in ten days time as he gradually builds his form for the spring Classics. He revealed he could ride Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on February 25 to get his first taste of Belgium but is also considering an extra training block before riding Paris-Nice.
"I'm on the programme for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad but we'll make a final decision after I see how I feel after Algarve," he said cautiously. "It depends on how I feel and if I still need to do some training. There's a chance to do a training camp. The focus is full on to the Classics and I think we're on a good way."