While Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) credited his 2018 experience in his ride to victory on Tuesday's summit finish, the first of two this week, it seemed that Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) was hampered by his lack of knowledge of what was to come. The Slovenian only arrived on Friday, ahead of the race start on Sunday, and did not have an opportunity to scope out the climb.
Still, his Jumbo-Visma team set about not just defending his jersey on the ascent but actively looking to put his rivals out of contention as, one after the other, they drilled a tough pace on the front of the peloton. With a little over four kilometres remaining, Roglic then took up the baton himself with an attack that dislodged all but a few. He withstood some attacks from those that remained but did not have anything in the armoury when Valverde attacked him in the final kilometre.
"It's always after the finish you can say it like that but at the end, for sure, Alejandro was stronger, and he deserved to win," Roglic said when asked if he wished that he had known Jebel Hafeet better, though he later admitted that if he had known the climb better he would have changed his approach.
"It was a really strong team all day as we saw because every guy did their job perfectly. Somehow, I was stronger because of that and I was really thankful for that. I was then able to do that effort because of that.
"I think in the end it was quite a hard climb for all the guys, it was the first time here and I didn't really know exactly the finish but I still think that we showed today with the team that all the guys are really super strong and they did a super job. I went all out at the end."
Though he lost to Valverde on the line, Roglic still extended his buffer to second place, with his closest rivals after the opening team time trial struggling under the heavy pace. It is now Valverde that sits just behind him at 14 seconds, while David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) moved up to third place but is 31 seconds back.
Roglic must get over two difficult hurdles in Wednesday's uphill ride to Hatta Dam, which could see Valverde shave a couple of seconds off his advantage, before the stage 6 summit finish on Jebel Jais.
"Like we did today, we have a really strong team, we have to fight every day and stay focused until now and then of course we can be happy," he concluded.
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