Marcel Kittel and Alexander Kristoff both changed teams in the hope of finding new motivation and new success in 2018. However, they were both left disappointed after the first big sprint showdown of 2018 at the Dubai Tour.
Kittel was quietly confident that his new Katusha-Alpecin lead-out train was good enough to take on his former team Quick-Step Floors and his replacement Elia Viviani, while Kristoff was keen to prove a point to his former team Katusha-Alpecin by winning for UAE Team Emirates.
However, Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) grabbed the glory and confirmed that his stock is rising. The 24-year-old Dutchman has now won 22 races, adding the first stage in Dubai to his victory on the Champs Elysees at the 2017 Tour de France.
The finish on the edge of Palm Jumeirah was a tense, technical affair, with riders fighting for the best position with a breeze blowing from their left, which squeezed the sprinters on the right. Kristoff struggled to find his way through the chaos, while Kittel was well placed in the final kilometre only to be slowed by an unspecified mechanical problem and finished 16th.
"I'm really convinced that I had the chance to go for victory today. I was in good position and felt good. Of course I'm disappointed if I'm honest about it," Kittel said before pedalling out his disappointment on the ride back to the team hotel near the Dubai Marina.
"This is the most technical finish of the Dubai Tour. I think we did a really good job in always finding a really good position to be there. In the end Marco Haller brought me to the front, and I was about to start my sprint but then I got a technical problem. That was disappointing, but as a team we did a really good job. I think we can build from this."
Kristoff stopped just after the finish with his new UAE Team Emirates teammates and discussed the sprint. Like Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), he became stuck in the fighting for the best wheels and only got a clear run in the final 100 metres, finishing a distant fourth behind Groenewegen, Magnus Cort Nielsen (Astana) and Viviani.
"We had a fairly easy stage; I think I was under 450 watts as an average for the whole stage. That meant everybody came into the finish fresh, and things are always more dangerous when everyone thinks they can win," Kristoff explained.
"It was pretty chaotic. I even had to break with 400 metres to go and I was not the only one. People were moving left and right. You looked up and thought you had a clear run, then suddenly it wasn't clear anymore. That happened a lot today."