UAE Tour: Making every second count as crosswinds carve GC on stage 1

ABU DHABI UNITED ARAB EMIRATES FEBRUARY 21 Joao Almeida of Portugal and Team Deceuninck QuickStep during the 3rd UAE Tour 2021 Stage 1 a 176km stage from Al Dhafra Castle to Al Mirfa UAETour on February 21 2021 in Abu Dhabi United Arab Emirates Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images
João Almeida (Deceuninck-QuickStep) during the 3rd UAE Tour 2021 Stage 1 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

A number of pre-race favourites conceded minutes in the very first stage of the UAE TourUAE Tour but others still continued to battle for every single second, chasing intermediate sprint bonuses to take an edge over those rivals that did make the front split in the wind fractured stage. 

João Almeida (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), who could also be helping set themselves up for a tight overall battle at the stage 2 time trial tomorrow, kept the margin between them tight and narrowed the gap to the winner of the echelon strewn stage, Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), with intermediate sprint time bonuses on stage 1.

“No one expected the race to be like that. At the end we had five guys in the right spot. This is a 7-day race, there aren’t many climbs and the time trial is quite short too so I tried to go for the time bonus because every second is important. We kept going hard and it worked out,” said Almeida. 

The 22-year-old Deceuninck-QuickStep swept up the win during both the intermediate sprints, taking a total of 6 seconds from his time and helping the rider, who finished ninth in the stage, move to fourth overall on the GC, just seven seconds behind leader van der Poel. Almeida also sits behind David Dekker (Jumbo-Visma) and Michael Mørkøv (Deceuninck-QuickStep) but perhaps more crucially is one second ahead of GC rival Pogačar, who is in fifth. 

Pogačar finished ahead of Almeida on the stage, but the two bonus seconds he took by coming second in the final sprint weren't enough to keep him ahead on the overall given Almeida's hefty bonus haul. Defending champion Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers) is also among those still in the GC race, just 13 seconds back.

“It was a really hard stage with the wind, but in the end our team did a super good job with four guys in the front group. Sadly we missed the stage win but I think we showed that we are strong and up for the fight. We were there at the front and we’ve set ourselves up well for the next few days,“ said Pogačar 

Stage 2 is also likely to be crucial in the GC battle, delivering a 13 kilometre individual time trial around the Al Hudayriat Island cycling track. Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) is the favourite for the stage, as he has swept the all of the previous seven races against the clock in which he has ridden, from World Champion’s rainbow jersey and all three TTs in the Giro d'Italia to this season's Etoile des Bessèges. However, Almeida who finished no lower than 6th in the three time trials en route to placing fourth overall at the Giro d'Italia, and Pogačar who won the 2020 Tour de France with a spectacular final time trial, are among those considered likely to engage in the battle for those lower steps of the stage podium.

“Tadej Pogačar and Adam Yates are obviously in good shape because you need good legs to make the front group in a race like this,” said Almeida. “Which one of us is the best time trialist for the UAE Tour? We’ll find out tomorrow”.

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