John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) perhaps knew that it would be difficult to stop Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick-Step) from pulling back four seconds in the final sprint of the Dubai Tour but he was disappointed to finish ninth in the stage 4 sprint and end the race six seconds behind the Manxman in the final overall classification.
Degenkolb and his Giant-Alpecin teammates rode perfectly to set him up for the uphill charge to the line at Hatta Dam on Friday, when the German used his power and speed to win the stage ahead of Alejandro Valverde and his Movistar teammate Juan Jose Lobato. However 24 hours later, Etixx-Quick-Step rode the perfect finale to set up Cavendish, while Degenkolb's lead-out lost its way in the high-speed finish near the Burj Khalifa skyscraper.
“Mark did a good sprint and he had a good lead-out today. We couldn't manage to make a better lead-out or an equally as good lead-out, so I couldn't do a good sprint and it wasn't a great finale for us,” Degenkolb admitted to Cyclingnews after the final podium ceremony with Cavendish and Lobato.
“We kept calm and controlled the stage and rode in a smart way. But in the sprint we definitely still have to learn things with the team we had here. It's early in the season, so it's not a big problem but we have to fix some communication problems for the future.”
The Giant-Alpecin team struggled to compete with the slick lead-out juggernaut that is Etixx-Quick-Step, and the Astana, Movistar and Team Sky also managed to set up their sprinters better in the high-speed finishes. Luka Mezgec was sixth in the opening sprint on stage 1, Degenkolb was 13th on stage 2 won by Elia Viviani (Team Sky) and he was only ninth on stage 4.
However, Degenkolb's stage 3 victory was impressive and confirmed his early-season form. He became a father on January 2 but is as ambitious as ever. Last year he won Gent-Wevelgem and was second in Paris-Roubaix. He is aiming for a big win in 2015, with the three Monument Classics of Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix firmly in his sights.
“In general I'm very happy with my week and my stage win. It's a great start to the season for me and for the team. We learnt a lot and that's the most important thing. Now we can go home with a win and second place overall. That's not bad but we have things to improve. That's how it is, that's cycling. It's challenging,” Degenkolb said.
“I'm really preparing for the Classics this year. I had a great winter and I'm coming into great shape. If you target the Spring Classics, it’s all about three big races: Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, they're the three so-called Monuments. They're the ones I'm aiming for.”
After a few days at home with his wife Laura and baby son Leo Robert, Degenkolb will head to Spain for another important block of racing, riding the one-day Vuelta Ciclista a Murcia race and the Ruta del Sol in Andalusia, where he will polish his Classics form before targeting other stage victories at Paris-Nice.