John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) collapsed on the ground after winning stage 3 of the Dubai Tour to Hatta Dam, suffering for the huge effort he made to sprint up the 17 per cent final section of the climb.
However, it was worth the pain, with the powerful German taking the stage victory ahead of Movistar pair Alejandro Valverde and Juan Jose Lobato. He also took the overall race lead thanks to distancing his rivals and especially key rival Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick-Step), who was classified as finishing 10 seconds back by the official time keepers due to gaps between the riders as they fought up the short climb.
“After the finish line I couldn't see anything anymore,” Degenkolb told the media at the podium area after pulling on the blue leader's jersey. “If you'd measured the lactate in my body, then everybody would understand why I collapsed. I was fighting for some oxygen. When you win like this on a finale like this, there's no chance to celebrate. You just have to recover as quickly as possible, otherwise you risk damaging your brain...
“Before the line I was thinking they were going to catch me. But I just didn't look back and did a full out sprint. I'm going to look at the watts I produced. I went for it at a bit less than 250 metres to go. But when it's steep like this, the last 150 metres is like 300 metres on the flat.”
Degenkolb compared his first victory of the 2015 season to his stage victory in Matera at the 2013 Giro d'Italia, when he made a huge effort to win after a crash split the front group.
“I think it was a great sprint and I'm very happy with this victory. If you win you get confident and you don't have the pressure of having not won a race. It gives you a lot of self-confidence for the next races. Today we're going to celebrate and it was really an achievement of the whole team.
“We raced pretty smart and in the end we had enough guys to put me in the right position at 500 metres to go. I was lucky that I could go around Luka Mezgec -he was also there in the Giro sprint two years ago too. It was pretty long but looking back I think it was good that I started that early because it also brought me the extra seconds for the classification. I'm really happy.”
He confirmed he stayed on the big chainring for the climb and was happy to joke about now targeting the steep finish on the Mur de Huy that decides the Flèche Wallonne Classic. Degenkolb will of course target the cobbled Classics. He won Gent-Wevelgem in 2014, was second in Paris-Roubaix and took four stages at the Vuelta a España on the way to winning the points jersey. While teammate Marcel Kittel is a pure sprinter and perhaps wins more stages at the Tour de France, Degenkolb has the climbing ability, sprinting speed and strength to any of the Spring Classics from Milan-San Remo to Paris-Roubaix.
“I'm just happy to have won this race. It's a great start to the season. And I like that feeling,” he said.
Degenkolb leads Cavendish by four seconds in the overall classification at the Dubai Tour, with Valverde third overall at six seconds. The time bonuses and the final sprint at the end of the flat 123km fourth stage on Saturday will decide who wins the second edition of the Dubai Tour.
“Tomorrow (Saturday) we're going to do everything to defend the jersey and bring the jersey home,” Degenkolb promised.
“It's not going to be easy but I think we've got a good chance to do get some bonus seconds and do a good result in the end of the race. It's not impossible. Like they say when they talk about Dubai: nothing is impossible.”
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