After three podium finishes already this year, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) sealed the first victory of his season and his first in the rainbow jersey as world champion on stage 3 of the UAE Tour. The Spaniard got the better of race leader Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) on Jebel Hafeet, timing his ride just right to catch and drop the Slovenian on the upper slopes.
Valverde said afterwards that it had been a very tactical effort, and he used his knowledge of the ascent to keep calm. The gradient of the 10.8-kilometre Jebel Hafeet is ever-changing, with its toughest part in the middle before easing off at the top.
Valverde won on this climb a year ago to set up his overall win at the Abu Dhabi Tour, and he knew he did not have to react to Roglic's attack with just over four kilometres remaining. Instead, he bided his time until 2.5km to go before setting off in chase of Roglic, finally dropping him just inside the flamme rouge.
"Even though it's at the same place as last year, there is something extra because I won with the world champion's jersey," Valverde said after the stage. "I tried a number of times this year to win my first race with the jersey, so I'm glad that it finally happened today.
"I knew exactly where I wanted to start my effort, which is exactly where I did it last year. I knew that I could wait to make my move. I didn't want to rush. Before, when I saw other guys attacking, I chose to climb at my pace, but I knew that I would come across. I just waited for the right moment to go for the win."
Valverde now sits second in the overall classification, 14 seconds behind Roglic, with Groupama-FDJ rider David Gaudu a further 17 seconds behind him in third place. Jumbo-Visma and Roglic looked well in control of the stage until the final moments and Valverde sees him as his most significant hurdle to overall victory, though he says he's not overly bothered about the title.
"He's a very solid rider, and he goes well on all terrains. He's a very good time triallist, he's my main rival for this race," explained Valverde. "We'll see in the next days if I can also win the overall classification, but I don't care that much. I have a stage, that's what I wanted. I got the stage win in a very nice place up here."
While he says that he's not too fussed about the general classification, Valverde is one of the few riders that have seen the second summit finish of Jebel Jais. The 20km ascent is new to most of the riders after being introduced to UAE racing for the first UAE Tour this year. After arriving on Thursday, Valverde travelled out to see what it was about, and he believes it will be a very different effort to the one he faced today.
"It's very difficult because we have to ride very slowly," he explained. "There will be even more wind than today. It's not steep, but the tension in the finale before the climb will be higher because it's a very slow climb. We can't get much speed on the climb.
"Tomorrow [to Hatta Dam], I also know the finish because I once came second to [John] Degenkolb [at the 2015 Dubai Tour -ed]. Tomorrow's stage is quite simple before the final uphill. My idea for tomorrow is to get a good position at the bottom of the hill so that I don't lose any time."