Jens Keukeleire has revealed that he and Orica-Bike Exchange teammate Michael Matthews had no plans to go in the Abu Dhabi Tour break of the day, only to spend 135km out front trying to hold off the sprinter's and their teams.
The two went clear during the fast start to the 147km stage. They were joined by Gatis Smukulis (Astana), and Dion Smith (ONE Pro Cycling) and built up a lead of over two minutes, making use of the generous tailwind, before the return ride back towards Madinat Zayed. Dimension Data, Team Sky, Lotto-Soudal and Giant Alpecin combined to keep the break in check and with 20 kilometres to go the gap held at 2:20.
Keukeleire was the last to be swept up with eight kilometres to go, meaning he would not add another victory to his palmares to follow on from his break though win at the Vuelta a Espana. His reward was the black intermediate sprints jersey, while the related time bonuses lifted him to fourth place overall behind stage winner Giacomo Nizzolo.
"It wasn't really the plan this morning. It just happened. The stage was hard at the start and me and Michael found ourselves at the front. The bunch was lined out and so I said to him: Let's give it a crack and see what happens." Keukeleire told Cyclingnews, explaining how the head wind played a key factor in the outcome of the stage.
"We were surprised it was just him and me but fortunately the two other guys came up, which helped because it was hard out there. There was a head wind for the last 60km. We knew that it wasn't going to be easy to make it to the finish but we gave it everything to stay away. We planned it really well by saving some energy early on and then we gave it everything late on. Unfortunately the wind came up ad that spoilt our chances. If the wind had stayed steady I think we could have made it to the finish."
Keukeleire was happy to climb onto the podium after the stage but was slightly worried about the colour of the jersey in the heat of Abu Dhabi during Friday's second stage.
"I've got the black jersey as leader of the sprints competition. It's nice to have it but it's going to be a bit hot in it tomorrow," he concluded.
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