Sonny Colbrelli gave Bahrain-Merida its first victory of the 2018 season at the Dubai Tour, finishing off the work of his teammates, including team leader Vincenzo Nibali, on the steep slopes of Hatta Dam.
Colbrelli finished eighth, ninth and fifth in the three previous stages dominated by the pure sprinters. He is fast but is more of a finisseur and Classics rider. He was perfectly suited to the 17 per cent Hatta Dam finish, and got his approach and execution just right so that he joined John Degenkolb and Juan Jose Lobato as winner of the Dubai Tour’s Queen stage.
“I wanted to win today to pay back everyone at Bahrain-Merida for all the work they’ve done for me in the last few days and especially today. They protected me right to the final metres of the stage and so I had to win,” Colbrelli said with genuine gratitude.
While four of the Dubai Tour stages are pan flat, the 172km ride to Hatta Dam heads into the barren Hajar mountains and rolling hills. The Astana team was aggressive in trying to make the pure sprinters suffer and then Bahrain-Merida took over, dragging the peloton to the foot of the climb to ensure Colbrelli could catch lone attacker Brandon McNulty (Rally Cycling) and hit the line first.
“Some of the guys lead the chase in the final 30 kilometres, then Kristijan Koren, Grega Bole and Vincenzo Nibali took over in the finale. This is a team victory, they all helped me,” Colbrelli said, revealing he had a gear problem with 20km to go but preferring not to risk a bike change.
He rode the final 20km of the stage stuck in the 53-chainring, started the climb on the 25-tooth cog and changed to the 28 near the line.
“I got on Viviani’s wheel in the final kilometres and when I came out of the corner I passed Elia Viviani on the inside. I touched with Giacomo Nizzolo a little but then gave it everything. I almost died before the finish but I made it. I saw the American rider up the road; he was very strong and he’d have won by a big margin if there hadn’t been the uphill finish.
A 10-second stage winner time bonus moved Colbrelli up to third place overall behind Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors), with Magnus Cort Nielsen (Astana) second at two seconds. They will fight for overall victory in Saturday’s final sprint stage in downtown Dubai
“The final stage will be a big fight,” Colbrelli said, seemingly looking forward to it. “Viviani's got the advantage of being faster than me but we’ll fight to the very end and see what happens.”
Colbrelli’s early season win was a relief for Bahrain-Merida and for the Italian. He is now understandably upbeat about the rest of spring campaign.
“I’ve had a good winter and I think you can see that,” he said. “Now I’m excited to see what I can do in the opening weekend in Belgium. I’ll also ride Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico and of course Milan-San Remo, followed by the cobbled Classics.
“I love racing in Belgium and we’ve strengthen the Classics squad by signing Koren and Matej Mohoric. We’ve also hired Rik Verbrugghe Tristan Hoffman, they’ve both got valuable experience of racing in Belgium and so can help us make a difference.”
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