John Degenkolb was not convinced of his chances to win the sprint at the end of stage 3 of the Dubai Tour. But when his teammates insisted they should lead him out, and did an excellent job of it, he finished their work off perfectly, giving Trek-Segafredo its first sprint win of 2017. It was the team's second success of the early season after Bauke Mollema’s overall victory at the Vuelta San Juan in Argentina.
"Races are also mental games, and of course I want to be a success, so it's important to get support from the team. In the end, you win these races in your head. It was great the team kept believing in me even though I didn't feel super great after the sand storm," Degenkolb said, clearly ecstatic to have broken the ice and taken his first win for his new team.
"It was amazing, we had a great lead out that was perfectly timed and I could jump on [Dimenson Data's Reinardt Janse Van] Rensburg's wheel and luckily in the last few metres I could also overtake him."
The celebration was in stark contrast to this day last year when Degenkolb had major surgery to save his finger after being hit by a car while training with his team in Spain. Now he is one of the first winners of the new season and on track for an excellent Classics campaign.
Trek-Segafredo had asserted control over the first two sprints at the Dubai Tour, but Degenkolb finished fourth on both occasions behind former teammate Marcel Kittel. This time, a more rolling and twisting finish and then a rise to the line suited Degenkolb's sprint skills and he won it with a perfectly-timed bike throw.
A shot at overall victory
Degenkolb is now third in the overall classification, only 10 seconds down on Kittel. He won the queen stage to Hatta Dam in 2015 and has a great chance of overall victory if he can gain time on Friday's stage finish there. However, Degenkolb came to the Dubai with more modest ambitions and was careful not to raise expectations.
"I'll look day by day and we'll take it as it comes," he said.
"I'll give it everything possible to be there in the end, but the goal was to find the rhythm here and have a good start to the season. That's what we got already, so everything else that comes now is a bonus. This win also releases the pressure, that was not really there, but it's always nice to start your first race with a victory and go into a great Classics campaign."
"I'm definitely on track for Trek-Segafredo. I'm super happy about how everything is going. The feeling is the most important thing, and the feeling in the group is great."
Degenkolb had suffered in the brief sandstorm before the race came back together for the fast sprint in Al Aqah. After the tussles in the echelons, the riders spoke to the organisers about neutralising the stage. They struggled to collect their musettes in the feed zone because of the wind as sand pelted them.
Fortunately for everyone involved, the wind subsided because of a change in direction and some protection from some hills.
"I think the conditions were on the limit, over the limit and I would have wished we'd avoided a situation like this," Degenkolb said.
"I also understand the organisers and the jury. In a moment when you have a sandstorm, there's not too much you can do. You have to think of these kinds of things before."
"I think you could have done it a little better and avoided it. But I can also understand that after we asked to neutralise it, that we also keep on going. Then it was already too late, it was over, and the conditions were getting better."
"We agreed together that we'd ride easy. It was super dangerous; there was sand on the road. If you are in the back, you had no possibility to avoid the crash."