The opening stage of the Abu Dhabi Tour was always going to finish in a nervous sprint but few could have imagined the consequences of the high-speed crash with a kilometre to go.
Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott), Phil Bauhaus (Sunweb), Owain Doull (Team Sky), Marcel Kittel and Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) were amongst those who went down, with British neo-pro Doull hurt, he claimed, due to contact with Kittel’s disc brake. Doull's compatriot Alex Dowsett (Movistar) was caught up too but both were able to quickly get going.
It wasn't just that last corner that caught out some riders. Both of Trek-Segafredo's general classification leaders, Bauke Mollema and Alberto Contador, went down when riders tangled at speed with five kilometres to go. Contador was forced to jump on a teammate's bike and most of his teammates dropped back to help him make a quick return to the peloton.
The official medical bulletin revealed the details of some of the injuries. Ewan – who was slow to get up after the late crash - suffered contusions and abrasions of left shoulder and wrist. Bauhaus hurt his right hand and Alaphilippe his left side of his chest and hand, and Doull was left with grazes on the side of his chest and leg. Kittel appeared to suffer a cut on his right knee, but like all the riders he got up and rode to the finish. Ewan and Bauhaus were taken to a local hospital for x-rays and further checks.
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All the riders involved in the crash or blocked by the crash that occurred in the last three kilometres were credited with the time of the winner Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data).
Doull, who had been making his WorldTour debut after missing the Tour Down Under with a ruptured appendix, attributed some of the cuts, as well as slice marks in his left shoe, to Kittel's disc brake rotors. That sparked a debate about the safety of disc brakes in the peloton and the lack of a safety cover as many riders have requested in recent months.
Kittel is the only rider to use disc brakes at the Abu Dhabi Tour, just as was the case at the recent Dubai Tour. His teammate Tom Boonen has also used disc brakes this season, with world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) riding a disc brake bike during a training ride in Belgium before Saturday’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Both Quick-Step Floors and Bora-Hansgrohe are sponsored by Specialized.
Kittel and Doull rode to the finish together but did not talk. Doull expressed his concerns about disc brakes to Cyclingnews. Kittel suggested the crash occurred because of nervousness in the peloton, saying that he and Doull locked handlebars.
"I was in the wheel of Sabatini as we were closing in on the line, then Owain Doull came from the back and our handlebars got stuck in each other, and I crashed and lost some skin,” he said via the Quick-Step Floors team.
“Things like this happen when everyone is nervous in the final and wants to be in the front. It's a pity, because I felt good today and the team worked really well. It's a bit of a setback, but at the same time it motivates me even more for the next stages."
Contador had ridden safely in the peloton protected by his teammates until the late crash.
"It was a quiet day until the final," he said. "As expected it was very fast in the end because of the sprint. The peloton changed direction, and then the crash happened. Two of my teammates crashed in front of me, one was Bauke, but we quickly got going again. Julien (Bernard) gave me his bike, and then the team waited and helped get us back on. All ended okay. Now we have to recover for tomorrow."
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