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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Tuesday, February 21, 2023

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2022 Tour de France | 2022 Giro d'Italia

Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby. - Langston Hughes

Story of the Giro d'Italia, volume 1

Bill and Carol McGann's book The Story of the Giro d'Italia, A Year-by-Year History of the Tour of Italy, Vol 1: 1909 - 1970 is available in print, Kindle eBook & audiobook versions. To get your copy, just click on the Amazon link on the right.

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UAE Tour stage one reports

We posted the report from stage winner Tim Merlier's Team Soudal Quick-Step with the results.

Here's the report from second-place Caleb Ewan's Team Lotto Dstny:

An exciting opening stage at the UAE Tour ended in a millimetre sprint between Lotto Dstny leader Caleb Ewan and Tim Merlier. That sprint concluded a day of battling in the echelons with a select group also including Ewan’s teammate Jarrad Drizners fighting it out for victory. After a long wait for the photo finish verdict, Merlier was eventually declared as the stage winner with Caleb Ewan having to settle for second place.

Race finishes don't come any closer. Tim Merlier (bottom) was declared the winner.

“It was a very tough day out with the echelons happening straight away from the start. Only one or two kilometres in, I punctured and was forced to go for a wheel change, right when all the action started and splits occurred. I was way at the back but eventually my teammates helped me in making my way through the groups and getting back to the first chasing group”, starts Caleb Ewan.

After a chase of almost 100 kilometres, the chasing group made contact with the front of the race, which would eventually be whittled down some more and sprint for the stage win in Al Mirfa.

“Eventually I made it to the front group after an entire day of full gas racing, where I found my teammate Jarrad. Just when we thought it would all come back together we managed to split the group again and be up front. Of course Jarrad Drizners was a big help out front and made sure I could get to the sprint. But what can I say about it…? I wouldn’t do anything different, really. I was almost fast enough but apparently not quite enough. Obviously, it’s disappointing to miss out on the stage win with such a narrow margin. But the main thing to take away is the fact that I was up there, which shows the good form I’m in and it’s only promising for the next sprint stages this week”, concludes Ewan.

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Here’s the UAE Tour report from third-place Mark Cavendish’s Team Astana Qazaqstan:

The UAE Tour got an explosive opening Stage 1 from Al Dhafra Castle to Al Mirfa with a crosswind hitting the peloton just from KM 0 of the race. It did not take much time for the echelons to get created with Astana’s two riders Cees Bol and Mark Cavendish making the first and second main groups, respectively.

With 45 km to go two groups came back together, while after a new split 13 riders went away clear with Bol and Cavendish among the leaders. At the end of the day this group played Stage 1 win in a sprint with Mark Cavendish finishing third and Cees Bol taking a tenth position.

Mark Cavendish (obscured behind Caleb Ewan) is just off the pace.

“At the start it was all about positioning. With Cees we both went in the first group, but in a moment I got something like a stone on the side of the road and I lost my position in the front, dropping to the second group. However, Cees still was there in the front, and I had not pull in my group, just staying on the wheel all the time. When we came back together, I just jumped on the wheel of Cees, following him in the group. He is a great rider just to stay behind on his wheel. There was a right-side split in the group and the riders with GC ambitions worked hard in front, trying to keep the second group away. I just stayed there ready for the sprint. I was squeezed a bit on the last corner, but still did my best in the sprint, finishing on the podium and that’s not bad. Actually, I am happy I was there for the sprint, with my form and with support of Cees in the final”, – said Mark Cavendish.

“It was tough from the start because of the crosswind. We stayed together with Mark, but then I made the first group and Mark didn’t. I tried to open the group a bit, but it was too late. So, then I just stayed in the leading group trying to save myself as much as possible. I knew that normally the second group could come back, and it happened in the end. We found each other in this group, while later when we moved up to the front the group split again for the second time. However, we continued riding together to the final. We have quickly spoken to each other just to make a short plan and then in the sprint I think I still can do some details a bit better, but in general it went good, and we got a nice result”, – added Cees Bol.

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Fourth-place Olav Kooij’s Team Jumbo-Visma posted this report:

Olav Kooij has sprinted to fourth place in the first stage of the UAE Tour. Team Jumbo-Visma was constantly alert on a windy day in the Middle East and was in the lead group with many riders.

Immediately after the start in Al Dhafra Castle, the race exploded. There was a warning about echelons on the flat Abu Dhabi course. The Dutch team was alert when the peloton broke up after a few kilometres. "We knew where it would happen. We ended up with four riders. Unfortunately, Sepp crashed, and Lennard was held up as a result”, Maarten Wynants said.

Echelons were the order of the day.

On Monday afternoon, the sports director was pleased with his team's progress in recent months. "We have been working hard to prepare the riders for the stages. Especially for Tom this was new. Today he showed that he could do it."

Twenty kilometres from the finish, the lead group split in two. Kooij jumped with them but was disappointed to see that his other teammates were just too late to make it across. "At that point, we knew there could be another breakaway. With Michel and Tosh, we just missed it. Luckily Olav was there, and he could sprint for the stage win”, Wynants said. The 21-year-old rider was caught in the sprint and settled for fourth place.

There will be more opportunities for the top sprinters later this week. "They're predicting a bit less wind for the next few days. Hopefully, we will get some real bunch sprints. A sprint with a thin bunch is always different”, said the sports director.

Tomorrow's race features a seventeen-kilometre team time trial. The last team time trial at the UAE Tour was held in 2019. It was won by Team Jumbo-Visma. Wynants and his men were able to prepare well for this weekend's team time trial. "Yesterday, we were able to train in formation for the time trial, and we focused on technique. There are a lot of roundabouts in the course, and we tried to simulate them. The riders can surprise us again tomorrow. We are going for the best possible result.”

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And here’s the UAE Tour report from Arnaud Démare’s Team Groupama-FDJ:

The first stage of the UAE Tour 2023 was surely made for the sprinters, but the day proved everything but quiet. In the Emirates’ desert and wind, the echelons started from the very first kilometres on Monday, and Arnaud Démare battled for nearly two hours with Ignatas Konovalovas and Bram Welten to reconnect with the first peloton. They did make it back, but with thirty kilometres remaining, a group of twelve men managed to break away again and made it to the line. Tim Merlier took the win on this opening day while most of the Groupama-FDJ team finished about a minute down. Tuesday, a team time trial will be on the menu.

The stage one profile.

Looking at the profile, and only at the profile, the outcome of the UAE Tour’s first stage seemed very predictable. One hundred and fifty kilometres were to be covered, with no climbing at all along the way. Yet, it meant forgetting the fundamental factor of this day: the location. It is indeed in the desert that the race started on Monday, on a course that was therefore completely exposed to the wind. The latter did not fail to create damage, and already from kilometre 0 which was crossed at full speed by a peloton that split into pieces very quickly. “As we imagined, the start was very fast, with a side wind,” said Sébastien Joly. “There was a crash from the start that involved Laurence [Pithie], but he seems to be ok. As for the race, we had Kono, Arnaud and Bram in the second group which later came back to the first”. With difficulty though. It indeed happened with 50k to go after a relentless fight between the first two bunches, which lasted for over nearly ninety kilometres with a gap fluctuating between thirty seconds and one minute.

In the lead, Arnaud Démare then found himself with some of his sprint rivals, while the biggest peloton took advantage of an easier pace at the front to gradually reduce his four-minute gap. Thirty kilometres from the finish, it even seemed everything was about to come back together, but the action restarted. “In the final, the first group split again, and they made it until the end,” commented Sébastien. Only twelve riders managed to make the right move, and the Groupama-FDJ men were unfortunately not among them. “In the back, the third peloton joined the second one and we eventually limited the losses for the general classification”, added Sébastien. “Only Remco Evenepoel and Pello Bilbao took a bit of a lead, but everything is still possible for Michael”. Tim Merlier won the stage in a small group as the main peloton finished fifty-one seconds later, with Arnaud Démare and Michael Storer among it. On Tuesday, the UAE Tour will organise a team time trial for the first time in its history. Seventeen-kilometre long, the event should also be crucial for the overall. “We will commit properly and give 100%,” concluded Sébastien Joly.

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