Live coverage of the opening stage of the 2016 Abu Dhabi Tour, a flat 147km out-and-back stage in the desert.
Hello there. It's nearly time for the end of the season, but first there's the small matter of the Abu Dhabi Tour. Four days of racing in the autumn heat of the Emirate, where the sprinters will come to the fore, save for the stage 3 summit finish.
Kicking things off today is a 147km flat stage out in the desert, which should culminate in a bunch sprint.
We pick up the action with 75km remaining, and we have a breakaway of four riders.
They are: Michael Matthews and Jens Keukeleire (Orica-BikeExchange), Gatis Smukulis (Astana), and Dion Smth (ONE Pro).
They have a lead of around 3:30.
This opening stage is similar to last year's, taking place in the desert and finishing in Madinat Zayet. Last year the stage had to be shortened due to the intense heat, and at the end of it all, Andrea Guardini emerged victorious in the sprint.
It's not quite as severe as last year, but the temperatures are still upwards of 35 degrees.
The riders are just coming to the end of the circuit in Liwa out at the mid-point of the route. The roads undulate here through the dunes, forcing plenty of out-of-the-saddle efforts.
@BMCProTeam Thu, 20th Oct 2016 11:05:24
A shot of our breakaway
Dimension Data lead the chase in the peloton. Mark Cavendish will be looking to win the sprint today - not that it will go very far to providing redemption for his near miss at the Worlds last weekend, where he finishes second behind Peter Sagan.
There's a fair breeze blowing out there, and the riders are grouped in a slight echelon formation. Nothing strong enough to split the race at this point.
Velon are providing live data from the race today, and thanks to them we can tell you that Jens Keukeleire's heart is beating at a pacy 155bpm.
Mark Cavendish, as Velon have it, should be presumed clinically dead. There are lots of riders, in fact, whose heart rate monitors aren't feeding back properly.
50km remaining from 147km
With 50km remaining, the gap to the break starts to come down and is now below the three-minute mark.
Elia Viviani, winner of two stages last year, is here and looking for his first win on the road since March, after switching to the track over the summer and winning Olympic gold in the Omnium.
"Last year I beat Sagan twice and he's strong sprinter but this year we've got Cav, Greipel. Degenkolb, Matthews and others. For sure I need to produce a perfect sprint to win here but it'd be great to end the season with a win," the Italian said yesterday.
"We'll see how things go but I'm confident because I have a strong leadout to help me. Last year I had Ben Swift and Andy Fenn and this year we've got new guy Owain Doull, Fenn, Kwiatkowski and Danny Van Poppel. Doull is new but he's really ready to do a good job in the lead out. I hope they can put me in the best position with two hundred metres to go. If we have the legs its best to be at the front and I hope to be in the best position when I can."
Those quotes are from Stephen Farrand's story on Viviani and Cavendish, which you can find at the following link:
39km remaining from 147km
Just under 40km to go. The four breakaway men are working well together but the peloton have this under control and the gap stands at just under two minutes.
The riders are on this long, straight road back to Madinat Zayet. Once there, they'll cross the finish line and begin a 14.5km lap of a finishing circuit.
Still it's Dimension Data on the front of the bunch. Sky just behind them. 1:45 the gap.
As well as Cavendish and Viviani, there are plenty of strong sprinters in the race. Andre Greipel is here, still annoyed, apparently, at the debacle that was the German performance at the Worlds. Other threats include Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo), John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin), Jakub Mareczko (Wilier Southeast) and Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida).
30km remaining from 147km
30km to go. The pace is pretty zippy at the moment - in the upper 40's kph.
The gap is 1:54 as Matthews, Keukeleire, Smith, and Smukulis continue down this excruciatingly long and straight highway.
Forgot Guardini. Winner of last year's opening stage, the Italian is always a threat in the hot, lower-level races - just look at his record at the Tour de Langkawi.
Lotto Soudal put a man on the front now, and the bunch is lined out. The gap, however, is going back out. It's up at 2:25 now.
A shot of the peloton
Vincenzo Nibali heads to the front of the peloton. Not to contribute to the pace setting, but to have a word with a couple of the riders up there. There's something he's not happy about.
19km remaining from 147km
Our four breakaway men still have 2:15. That can come down pretty quickly but the peloton are leaving this late.
Trek commit a rider to the chase now. With only six riders per team, the powers that be in the bunch have a tougher proposition than usual on their hands.
15km remaining from 147km
1:53 with 15km to go.
Michael Matthews can't have seriously expected to win from the break today, but the possibility must surely be entering his radar now. The Australian would surely win the sprint should this quartet make it all the way. He has teammate Keukeleire with him, but still comes through to take a turn - this group needs full commitment for a good while yet.
Polish Pro Continental outfit CCC move to the front in numbers now, and the gap is starting to go the right way - as far as the peloton is concerned - once again.
12km remaining from 147km
1:10 is the gap with 12km to go.
The pace was really high in the first half of this stage but, with riders coming back along the same road, the tailwind has turned to a headwind, and it looks pretty tough for the men on the front of the two groups.
10km remaining from 147km
Lots of rotation at the head of the peloton, and that is making the difference. The gap continues to plummet. 45 seconds now.
Smukulis shakes his head as he struggles to hold Keukeleire's wheel. That could be game over for the Astana rider.
It's nearly game over for the whole breakaway.
Smukulis is absorbed first, followed by Matthews and Smith. Keukeleire, who has taken on the biggest workload, manages to hold on for a few more seconds.
7km remaining from 147km
All together, then, with 7km remaining.
It's fast and furious now in the bunch, with the wind playing a big part. Trek-Segafredo are really fighting to set up shop front and centre.
5km remaining from 147km
5km to go!
A Wiggins rider hits the front. Two Sky riders just behind.
Cavendish's Dimension Data come through on the right now.
4km remaining from 147km
Dimension Data lead. ONE Pro try to bring Steele Von Hoff to the front.
BMC are moving up. Matthews is still up there near the front after his efforts in the break.
3km remaining from 147km
CCC move back up now. Lots of change at the head of affairs.
3km remaining from 147km
CCC move back up now. Lots of change at the head of affairs.
2km remaining from 147km
A couple of roundabouts disrupt proceedings, but it will be an uncomplicated final kilometre.
Dimension Data cede responsibility to Sky, who put Owain Doull on the front. ONE Pro lined up alongside them.
1km remaining from 147km
Andy Fenn takes it up for Sky going under the flamme rouge.
Giant now pick it up.
Last 500 metres and it strings out through the final bend.
Nizzolo takes it up
Degenkolb on the wheel, Cav coming up.
Nizzolo takes it!
The Italian raises his arms, Degenkolb slumps his head.
Cavendish was third there, followed by Magnus Cort Nielsen.
No sign of Greipel or Guardini.
Degenkolb took the wheel of Nizzolo rather than that of his lead out man, but was unable to get on terms. Cavendish never looked like he hit full speed, slightly more in the wind.
With bonuses seconds of 10, 6 and 4 for the top three, Nizzolo takes the leader's jersey, with Degenkolb four seconds back overall and Cavendish third at six seconds.
1 Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) Trek-Segafredo 3:15:59
2 John Degenkolb (Ger) Giant-Alpecin
3 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Dimension Data
4 Magnus Cort Nielsen (Den) Orica-BikeExchange
5 Christopher Latham (GBr) WIGGINS
6 Michael Kolar (Svk) Tinkoff
7 Romain Maikin (Rus) Gazprom-RusVelo
8 Marco Coleman (Ita) Trek-Segafredo
9 Jean-Pierre Drucker (Lux) BMC
10 Ramon Sinkeldam (Ned) Giant-Alpecin
“It was a really long sprint and really fast. What can I say? I’m really happy,” Nizzolo said at the finish.
“After the Worlds on Sunday I said I would come to Abu Dhabi Tour and look for one more victory. That’s the best start.”
That's it for our live coverage of today's stage. Thanks for joining, and please do so again tomorrow. I'll leave you with our stage report and photo gallery.
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