Tanel Kangert is one of Astana's hard working team riders that spend much of their season at the service of Vincenzo Nibali and Fabio Aru. But with Nibali still recovering after fracturing his collarbone at the Rio Olympics, Kangert got his big day out as team leader on the climb to Jebel Hafeet. He didn't disappoint, ably stepping up as team leader and winning the all-important mountain stage to set up overall success at the Abu Dhabi Tour.
He attacked confidently with Nicolas Roche (Team Sky) with six kilometres of the climb remaining and then turned the screws on the Irishman by pushing an extra 30 watts with three kilometres to go. It was enough to propel him clear alone and he had time to zip up his jersey and celebrate arguably the biggest victory of his career.
"I know its sounds like a cliché when riders thank their team but I have to thank Astana today because I had liberty to do what I wanted," he explained.
"Nibali told me it was his turn to help me this time and he did a good job behind. I knew that I could have done a top 10 or if I was lucky even a top five but being in the lead is quite special for me. I've had my own chances in the past but it was perhaps the wrong time. For example two years ago I was sick when I had chances to target the GC at Vuelta [a España]. It's doesn't always work out."
Kangert travelled to Qatar and trained in the heat for the team time trial World Championships but then returned home to Estonia to train for the Abu Dhabi Tour. Roche had noticed Kangert's form, and Kangert had seen that Roche was going to lead Team Sky's chances.
"He told me he was watching me, that meant he wanted to win, so I kept my eye on him, too," Kangert explained, revealing how he dispatched the Irishman with three kilometres to go.
"I was trying to keep a constant pace on climb because I knew if I went too deep I'd blew up. I knew I could do one attack and knew that if pushed 30 watts more for 30 seconds he might not be able to resist, luckily he couldn't."
Kangert has played a key support role in Nibali's victories at the 2013 Giro d'Italia, the 2014 Tour de France and this year's Giro d'Italia. Kangert will stay at Astana for a further two seasons while Nibali moves to the new Bahrain-Merida squad. The Abu Dhabi Tour is their last race together.
Kangert is hoping for a little more freedom to ride for himself in the future but is saddened to no longer ride alongside and at the service of Nibali.
"I think we've had a good four years together. I hoped he's enjoyed his time at Astana too because we've had some good results. He's given me a lot of confidence and I've been honoured to ride for him," Kangert said.
"Things will change next year. We have good riders like Fabio Aru but I hope to be able to do more results next year. I don't know my programme for next year but I'm interested in targeting one-week stage races, such as the Tour de Suisse or the Criterium di Dauphine, where there are mountain stages. I'd also like to do well in the GC at a Grand Tour. Hopefully this success is one just one big day but the start of something else."
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