Throughout the 2022 UAE Tour (opens in new tab), Cyclingnews is running a 'Rider of the Day' series, in which our writers highlight and analyse the standout individual performances of each of the seven stages.
Cyclingnews created this content as part of a paid partnership with the UAE Tour. The contents of this article are entirely independent and solely reflect the editorial opinion of Cyclingnews
Stage 7: Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers)
Adam Yates may have not won the final stage 7 of the UAE Tour on Jebel Hafeet, but he did provide Tadej Pogačar with a late scare.
The British rider had the task of taking 16 seconds off the Slovenian to take overall honours on the final stage and 10-kilometre climb up to the finish in the UAE.
Last year, Yates faced the same situation and was narrowly pipped by Pogačar in the sprint finish.
This year UAE Team Emirates have improved the climbing talent around their two-time Tour De France winner which made the task harder for the Ineos Grenadiers rider.
George Bennett and Rafał Majka helped both Yates and Pogačar as they whittled down the front peloton to around 20 riders.
However, in a repeat of last year the two rivals competing for the stage and overall honours were the strongest and marked each other closely.
After his teammates had softened up the race Pogačar launched his first move with four kilometres remaining testing Yates who immediately responded.
Yates was waiting for the steeper slopes and when they came with three kilometres remaining launched an assault on the race.
While his Slovenian counterpart did respond Pogačar chose not to work with his rival or counter-attack.
A reluctance to seriously ride allowed Pello Bilbao (Bahrain – Victorious) and João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) back to the front.
Sensing a victory was there for the taking Almeida launched an attack which was quickly reacted to by Yates.
The best kind of defence is attack and the British rider chose his second moment perfectly launching a blistering move just before the kilometre marker.
Pogačar looked in trouble with a grimace and admitted afterwards that he was under pressure by the move.
However, the Slovenian knew the climb perfectly and dug deep to hang on as the road flattened before a descent to the line.
As he did in the fourth stage at Jebel Jais, Pogačar had enough power and speed to beat Yates in the final gallop to the line.
However, Yates and his rivals will take confidence from the fact that just for a moment Pogačar showed a moment of weakness which he will be hoping to exploit in the months to come
It was always going to take a big effort and a remarkable one to drop Tadej Pogačar and take his race lead on Jebel Hafeet which he had won on two years in a row.
However, Yates once again made it a spectacle throwing everything at his rival before being ultimately beaten into second.
The Ineos Grenadiers rider could have settled for second overall but instead put his rival to the test falling just short of cracking him.
Yates will now go to Paris Nice while Pogačar heads to Strada Bianche and then Tirreno-Adriatico in the coming weeks.
It will be interesting to see if Yates cane make a progression during the season and put the reigning Tour De France champion under increased pressure.
Stage 6: Mathias Vacek
Mathias Vacek won stage six of the UAE Tour (opens in new tab) as part of an opportunist but well-executed attack. The last flat stage of the 2022 UAE Tour was expected to be dominated by the sprinters and their powerful teams. However, they could only accept the bitter taste of defeat and congratulate Vacek on social media after the stage, acknowledging the breakaway had simply been stronger and smarter than the rest of the WorldTour peloton.
Vacek was part of the attack that formed as soon as the flagged dropped for the 180km stage. He surged away with teammates Pavel Kochetkov and Dmitry Strakhov, Paul Lapeira (AG2R Citroën), plus Jhonatan Canaveral and Alessandro Tonelli (both Bardiani-CSF-Faizane').
Vacek's team's strategy was first of all to secure the black sprints jersey for Strakhov. He had been on the attack for half of the total race distance in pursuit of the jersey and place on the podium. Strakhov won both intermediate sprints and could have sat up and returned to the peloton. Instead, he and the other five pressed on as they returned to the Expo site from the coastline, keen to test the grip of the peloton.
During the stage, the sprinters rolled along at the back of the pack, with just one rider from Alpecin-Fenix and one from QuickStep-AlphaVinyl keeping the break in check. There appeared nothing to worry about but then in the final 30km, the peloton kept the same steady pace while the break accelerated and sensed an opportunity. While many in the race were distracted by the Dubai skyline, the break pushed on and reached the 10km to go point with a lead of 1:15.
The alarm bells rang loud in the team cars and surely across team radios but it was too late. By the time QuickStep-AlphaVinyl, Jumbo-Visma, Bora-Hansgrohe and Ineos Grenadiers eventually joined forces on the front, the break sensed victory and pushed on even more.
Canaveral was dropped under the effort but Vacek still had two teammates and a massive numerical advantage. Kochetkov into the final kilometre and Vacek and Strakhov kicked for the line in the sprint. Lapeira desperately hoped to win but Vacek was faster and couldn't believe he had won. “We didn’t have any tactics, we just wanted to go to the finish. We tried everybody to sprint, and I had the best sprint.” he said.
It was a big day for the 19-year-old Czech rider and a big day for his team. Vacek won for himself but also for his team. At the same time, Ukraine rider Anatoliy Budyak of the Terengganu Polygon team won in the Tour de Rwanda. It is often argued that sport, politics and nationality shouldn’t be mixed but that was impossible today.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has already sparked other sports to take action and the UCI finally took a stance late on Friday, calling for an immediate halt to hostilities and said it considers the only way forward is through diplomatic channels. Some have gone much further and called for the Vacek's team to be suspended or their sponsorship somehow stopped. Russian energy company Gazprom is deeply involved in a number of European sports, including professional cycling. It is a Russian majority state-owned multinational energy corporation, with direct links to President Vladimir Putin.
However, the team has other non-Russian sponsors and only nine of the team’s 21 riders and team staff are from Russia. Any ban from racing would stop Gazprom from promoting their brand but would also hurt everyone on the team.
Most days the sprinters dominate the flat races and the subsequent headlines. Not today. At the UAE Tour, the little known riders had their day in the spotlight, while the big-name sprinters were left embarrassed and coy. Yet as race leader Tadej Pogacar said and putting politics aside, it was a good day for the sport, if with a surprise and little-known winner. It is a day Mathias Vacek (opens in new tab) will never forget.
"It’s nice to see a breakaway make it to the finish. It’s not nice for the sprinters but it’s something different. They showed it’s possible for the breakaway to make it, also on the flat stages. I was surprised by it but it’s cycling,” Pogacar said. “I’m not surprised to see a young guy win. He’s super strong if he rode like that today. It’s incredible. They pushed a lot of power for 180km. That’s not a short distance. I’m happy for him.”
Stage 5: Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix)
Last year, the young Belgian announced himself among the top sprinters in the peloton with nine wins, including Scheldeprijs and two stages at the Vuelta a España, and with this strong start to 2022 he looks to have taken yet another step.
The 23-year-old now had two sprint wins and a surely insurmountable green jersey points lead with two stages remaining, and he's beaten the likes of Mark Cavendish, Sam Bennett, Arnaud Démare, Dylan Groenewegen, and Elia Viviani twice from three sprint stages so far.
Gazprom-Rusvelo had a strong shout to be considered on stage 5. Their man Dmitry Strakhov was out in the break for a third time third race in search of intermediate sprint points to bolster his black jersey lead, while Czech champion Michael Kukrle was in both the early break and a strong late solo attempt for stage glory, but Philipsen made himself impossible to ignore on Al Marjan Island.
Like the first two sprint stages of the race, the finish was another hectic one as multiple teams fought to establish some semblance of a lead out heading into the finish. Israel-Premier Tech and Bora-Hansgrohe had the best of it, while Philipsen had a tougher task after his lead out man shipped his chain earlier in the final kilometre.
As a result, the Belgian was forced to surf on Sam Bennett's wheel, a spot which turned out to be prime position as Israel-Premier Tech's final two men split from the peloton with 500 to go. He was third wheel at 300 to go, with Olav Kooij (Jumbo-Visma) attempting to battle him for Bennett's wheel.
Shortly after, when Bennett jumped right towards the barrier, Philipsen went the other way, coming up alongside the Irishman inside the final 50 metres before easing past inside the last 25 to seal the win.
In real-time it was a close-run thing, but at the line Philipsen had almost a bike length on Bennett, while Kooij had also jumped past into second. In the end, he made his second win look a foregone conclusion — all that remains to be seen now is whether he can triple up in Dubai on Friday for the Expo 2020 stage.
Philipsen is proving himself the man of the UAE Tour, at least among the high-class sprint field present at the race. His two wins have seen him blend his power with the positioning savvy that means he's been in the right place at the right time to capitalise in Madinat Zayed and Al Marjan Island.
He was a whisker away from having three wins, having just missed out to Mark Cavendish on stage 2 in Abu Dhabi, where he started a touch too far back before coming back at the Manxman. In 2021 Philipsen jumped into the top rank of sprinters in the peloton — could the UAE Tour be the start of his jump up to number one?
Stage 4: Luke Plapp (Ineos Grenadiers)
Adam Yates finished runner-up and Filippo Ganna produced a huge performance to come within two seconds of taking the overall lead, but it’s a third Ineos Grenadiers rider who takes our UAE Tour Rider of the Day honours on stage 4: Luke Plapp.
The 21-year-old Australian is in his first year as a professional and riding his first top-level race, but that didn’t stop him climbing with the best on the first summit finish of the race at Jebel Jais. He didn’t just stay in contact with the group of 20 that reached the final 200 metres together; he played an active role all the way up.
After defending champion Tadej Pogačar had opened up the race as part of an aggressive team strategy from UAE Team Emirates, Plapp was up front as the first selections were made and the bunch started to fragment. When Jan Hirt (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) attacked with 6.5km to go he was one of four riders to respond and head clear.
That move was quickly brought back, but another one went thanks to UAE’s Rafal Majka, who ended up taking five riders with him. This time, Plapp took on a different role. He hit the front in the group behind, with Yates tucked in his wheel, and set about closing the gap for his leader. Within 700 metres, he had wiped out a 15-second gap.
The next phase of action saw Intermarché shred the group with a big push from Rein Taaramae to set up another attack from Hirt. Plapp was able to respond and was there to join Yates as a group of seven headed up the road. With Pogačar in there, it was an elite climbing group to be part of and a big asset for Yates to have team support.
Things came back together for the final kilometre, and UAE looked to perform a hilltop lead-out for Pogačar. However, Plapp had other ideas. He launched a big acceleration, and Joao Almeida simply couldn’t match the pace and had to pull aside. Majka did manage to shut it down and Pogačar went on to sprint to victory, with Yates second and Plapp crossing the line in 20th place at 16 seconds.
It was an all-action performance from a youngster who is supposed to be simply finding his feet at this level.
There were question marks over his acceleration in the final kilometre. In effect, he stretched the group to breaking point and left Ganna sprinting desperately for the line in a bid to take the red jersey, having started the day second overall and with the leader, Stefan Bissegger (EF-EasyPost) long dropped. In the end, Ganna managed to get on terms but a three-second gap was recorded between the top three and the rest of the front group which, combined with his 10 bonus seconds for the stage win, put Pogačar in red by two seconds.
Would that three-second gap have occurred if Plapp hadn’t stretched things in the final kilometre? It’s hard to say, and it’s somewhat irrelevant. Ganna might have enjoyed a day in red but Ineos have bigger fish to fry, and Yates - winner in 2020 and runner-up last year - is clearly the leader and the only one who can seriously challenge Pogačar on the tougher slopes of Jebel Hafeet on Saturday.
It’s also worth nothing that Plapp’s acceleration dropped Almeida and caused him to lose a total of 20 seconds to Yates. With the Portuguese rider having been fifth overall and seven seconds up after the time trial, that could yet prove significant.
Luke Plapp was already known to have a bright future ahead of him. It appears that future is now.
The Australian largely focused on the track in the early years of his development, but attracted a flock of WorldTour suitors with wins at the Festival of Cycling and elite national time trial in Australia last January. A three-year deal with Ineos was announced in the summer and he started the year with a solo victory to claim the elite national road race title, before coming to the UAE for his first real taste of pro life.
His main target had been the stage 3 time trial, but a crash in the recon damaged his bike and forced him to ride on a normal road bike, leaving him down in 102nd place. He’d arguably be up there on general classification now if he’d been able to ride his time trial bike.
Nevertheless, Plapp’s time trialling prowess has never really been in doubt. What was in doubt was his climbing, and he himself told us recently that the main objective of this season is finding out what kind of rider he could become. We’re one step closer to knowing that now.
Jebel Jais, with steady five per cent gradients for the most part, is hardly a pure climber’s favoured mountain, but was still a long 20km test and suggested that Plapp’s talents go well beyond the flat and rolling terrain. Bigger mountains and sterner tests will follow, and there’s still a lot to discover, but such an all-action display so early in his career would suggest he’s the latest in this new generation of young talents need no time to make an impact.
Stage 3: Stefan Bissegger (EF-EasyPost)
All eyes were on world champion Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers), but Stefan Bissegger (EF Education-EasyPost) stole his thunder on stage 3 of the UAE Tour with a resounding victory in the 9km test in Ajman.
There were other striking performances on stage 3, most notably from Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma), who put himself firmly in contention for final overall victory with his third place, but Bissegger’s sparkling display makes him our UAE Tour rider of the day.
The Swiss rider already caught the eye in his first full season as a professional last year, when he won three WorldTour time trials at Paris-Nice, the Tour de Suisse and the Benelux Tour. His sophomore season is now off to the perfect start, as he beat Ganna by some 7 seconds to take both stage victory and the red jersey of overall leader.
Twelve months ago, in a slightly longer test, Ganna edged out Bissegger for the win, and the younger man’s victory here was an indication of his development. Bissegger has now faced Ganna six times in time trials as a professional and finished ahead of the Italian on three occasions, a striking batting average.
The wind was a factor on out-and-back course in Ajman, which was flat and exposed to the elements. Riders were puffed along by the wind on the outward leg before they had to ride against that breeze on the way back to the finish.
Bissegger judged his effort perfectly, averaging in excess of 60kph in the opening half of his ride but still retaining enough power to combat the wind after the turn, stopping the clock in 9:43 for a final average speed of some 55.575kph.
That mark put Bissegger in the hot seat, from where he watched Ganna attempt to better his time. The world champion almost matched Bissegger at the first check, coming in just a second down, but that gap gradually yawned out to 7 seconds over the second part of the course, where Bissegger had clearly taken full advantage of his very tidy aerodynamic position to beat the conditions.
The result of one short time trial doesn’t change the fact that Ganna remains the standard bearer in the discipline, but Bissegger’s performance here was further evidence of his ability against the watch.
Like Ganna, he has a track background, and he has transferred his fluid pedalling and stylish position to efforts on the road.
At just 23 years of age, Bissegger still has progress to make over longer distances, though he placed 4th in last year’s European Championships and 7th at the Worlds. In shorter tests like Tuesday’s, however, he is already ready to win at this level.
If he continues in this form, Bissegger could well be the man to challenge Ganna for the first yellow jersey of the 2022 Tour de France, which will be contested in a 13km time trial in Copenhagen.
Stage 2: Mark Cavendish (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl)
Following a frustrating end to his Tour of Oman campaign and a messy start to the UAE Tour on Sunday, Mark Cavendish got back to winning ways on the second stage of the WorldTour opener in the Emirates.
The end of the stage affected by the wind – early crosswinds provoking some splits in the peloton, and late headwinds bringing the action to a crawl – brought with it another hectic sprint finish, with Cavendish edging out stage 1 winner Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) at the line.
With so many top sprinters and their lead out men in the race, Cavendish's stage 2 triumph wasn't a case of using the peloton-leading QuickStep-AlphaVinyl train to dominate the run to the line.
Instead, the Manxman had to adapt in the closing metres, surfing wheels and going long into a headwind on the Breakwater Road in Abu Dhabi.
The 176-kilometre stage, which largely skirted around Abu Dhabi to the east, promised much – or at least more than the opener – with the chance of crosswinds mixing things up. That didn't come to pass, however, and so the sprinters' most pressing task for large portions of the stage was to stay focussed ahead of the finale.
Cavendish and his QuickStep teammates did just that, staying out of trouble through the stage and its ever-changeable finale which saw different teams flow to the front on a minute-by-minute basis.
Neo-pro Stan Van Tricht and experienced lead out man Michael Mørkøv accompanied him in the final kilometre as Groupama-FDJ sought to take control, though he ended up briefly grabbing Sam Bennett's (Bora-Hansgrohe) wheel before launching.
And launch he did, hitting the wind at over 250 metres to go with Philipsen attempting to go around the outside of the curving finale, while Bennett seemingly got stuck behind his lead out Danny Van Poppel, dropping out of contention.
Come the final 150 metres, it was a two-up dash to the finish line against Philipsen, with Cavendish always slightly ahead of the red jersey holder. Philipsen closed in from a wheel length back, but in the end, it might just have been Cavendish's vaunted aero position which won him the day – by just a wheel length – into that bracing headwind.
Stage 2 of the UAE Tour brought another matchup between Cavendish and Philipsen, the two top sprinters of the 2021 season. Sunday saw Philipsen nip right into free space along the barriers to win on his first race day of the season, while Cavendish headed left and was blocked out in the sprint.
This time, the pair both had freer runs to the finish, Cavendish jumping from prime wheel position behind Bennett while Philipsen manoeuvred around Ackermann. Watching the sprint back, it's interesting to see how both men made their way to the front before the drag race to the line.
The duo were the class of the field on stage 2, with no other fastman coming close at the finish. Next, a time trial and a summit finish at Jebel Jais give them all two days off, before hostilities resume at Al Marjan Island and in Dubai on Thursday and Friday.
Stage 1: Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix)
Any pre-season nerves or rustiness was blown away as the Belgian found just enough space in a hectic finish at Madinat Zayed to win on his first outing of the new season.
The 23-year-old took nine wins last season, including Scheldeprijs, two stages of the Vuelta a España, and four wins in September. Impressively, the Alpecin-Fenix rider beat a field stacked with sprint talent, getting the better of Sam Bennett and Elia Viviani in a drag race to the line.
After being brought to the front by teammate Jonas Rickaert, the Belgian came off the wheel of a fading Pascal Ackermann before hugging the right side of the road.
With a 60-kilometre final straight into the finish patience and timing was always going to be crucial for the lead-out trains. A frantic conclusion in which no team had control resulted in sprinters scattered across the road.
Mark Cavendish had been alongside Philipsen with 100 metres remaining as the pair briefly battled for the wheel of Ackermann. Cavendish, however, moved left into the middle of the road to launch his sprint, only to find himself boxed in with no clear space ahead to launch his sprint to the line.
Meanwhile, Philipsen moved right towards the barriers and into space launching his sprint to the line to beat Bennett and Viviani by a bike length. After launching his bid for victory Philipsen continued to move right hugging the barriers, unknowingly blocking the sprint of Dylan Groenewegen, though with no clear deviation from his intial line.
While Groenewegen may have been the fastest rider on the day the positioning of Philipsen left no room on the barrier-side to allow the Dutchman through.
In the Scheldeprijs last season, Philipsen showed his class beating Bennett, Cavendish and Ackermann. The Belgian again proved on the opening day in the UAE that he can overcome the top sprinters. He will be closely watched by his big rivals for the remainder of the race and season.
With so many of the world’s fastest sprinters gathered at the UAE Tour positioning was always going to be crucial on the fast and very straight run into Madinat Zayed.
Philipsen was the man who was guided into the correct space by teammate Jonas Rickaert before timing his effort perfectly.
The fast and frantic nature of the final kilometres meant no lead out trains could deliver their men to the line with Cavendish and Groenewegen left boxed in and unable to launch their full sprint.
Thank you for reading 5 articles this month*
Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
after your trial you will be billed £4.99 $7.99 €5.99 per month, cancel anytime. Or sign up for one year for just £49 $79 €59
Join now for unlimited access
Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
Cyclingnews is the world's leader in English-language coverage of professional cycling. Started in 1995 by University of Newcastle professor Bill Mitchell, the site was one of the first to provide breaking news and results over the internet in English. The site was purchased by Knapp Communications in 1999, and owner Gerard Knapp built it into the definitive voice of pro cycling. Since then, major publishing house Future PLC has owned the site and expanded it to include top features, news, results, photos and tech reporting. The site continues to be the most comprehensive and authoritative English voice in professional cycling.