Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick-Step) had promised he would try to defend his overall race lead at the Dubai Tour on the hilly stage to Hatta Dam, and he dug deep on the 17% kick up to the finish, fighting for every second.
He could see that riders were attacking ahead of him and perhaps got a glimpse of John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) winning the stage alone but hoped, and was initially convinced, he had done enough to limit his losses and keep the blue jersey.
Cavendish finished 17th on the stage, in the same time as other riders around him and thought that he had only lost an few seconds to Degenkolb. However, the official results showed that had finished 10 seconds behind the German. Cavendish thought it was 11 seconds and was not happy.
“They've given me 11 seconds to Degenkolb but I don't know if there was a gap. We'll have to look at the overhead shot. I finished 11 seconds back but if there wasn't a gap then I shouldn't get 11 seconds. We'll check,” Cavendish told the media at the podium area after pulling on the red points competition jersey.
As he headed from the podium area to his Etixx-Quick-Step team car, Cavendish stopped to talk to the official time keepers close to the finish line. They showed him that there had been two gaps between the groups of riders ahead of him and that is why he was classified at 10 seconds behind Degenkolb.
If there had not been gaps between the riders, he would have been awarded the same time and so would have still been in the race leader's jersey. Instead he is now four seconds behind Degenkolb, with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) at six seconds.
Overall victory will decided on the fourth and last stage of the Dubai Tour on Saturday that finishes in the shadow of the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in the centre of Dubai. The 123km stage is pan flat but two intermediate sprints, early and late on during the stage, offer time bonuses of three, two and one second. Time bonuses of 10, six and four seconds are also awarded to riders at the finish. Cavendish can still win but Degenkolb can also hold onto his overall lead. Every second will be decisive.
“There's nothing I can do about it, there's no point in getting angry. If there's a gap, there's a gap,” Cavendish said, before going on to praise his hard working Etixx-Quick-Step teammates.
“I knew there wouldn't be a big gap in the peloton, so I tried to sit there. It looks like they gave me a gap but now I just want to recover for tomorrow. We'd like to win another stage. We've ridden incredibly all week, We've been on the front for three days.”
“It was a great ride by team, we wanted to give it everything. Today I could see that the peloton was finding it hard in the crosswinds but we had young rider Michael Vakoc riding for us. I knew I'd be distanced on the climb with 35km to go but the team stayed with me and rode a good tempo. We knew we cold get back on. We'd studied the stage finish before the start of the race, so we knew it and I knew I was on better form than last year and that I could get over the last climb no problem. It was just about positioning before the final climb and there was no point in going for the win. I'd rather save my energy for tomorrow (Saturday). I'd like to at least get another stage and hopefully the overall as well.”
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