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Friday, February 24, 2023

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UAE Tour stage four reports

We posted the report from stage winner Sebastian Molano's UAE Team Emirates with the results.

Here's the report from second-place Olav Kooij's Team Jumbo-Visma

Olav Kooij has just missed out on victory in the fourth stage of the UAE Tour. Sebastian Molano, who was declared the winner after studying the finish photo, narrowly beat the young Jumbo-Visma sprinter in the bunch sprint.

Could it get any closer? Photo: LaPresse

On the flat roads in and around Dubai, three riders formed the day's breakaway. The trio claimed a four-minute lead but could not avoid a bunch sprint.

In the closing stages, Team Jumbo-Visma did everything it could to put Kooij in the best possible position, and it paid off. The 21-year-old sprinter found a gap on the left side of the road and pulled hard. For a brief moment, it looked as if the Dutchman had secured his first win of the season, but Molano pushed his wheel over the line a little earlier than Kooij.

"It was very close", Kooij said. "I knew that Sam Welsford was attacking on the right, but I didn't know that Sebastian was there too. Looking at my sprint, I don't think I made any mistakes. It's unfortunate to lose by such a small margin, but I can't blame anyone. The team did a good job and positioned me perfectly. Now I’m in the lead of the Points Classification and I hope to defend it until the end of the race."

"The difference between disappointment and euphoria can be huge", sports director Maarten Wynants. "It's unfortunate, but there's little you can do about it. Olav rode a very good sprint and should be happy with his level. We may not have the best lead-out here, but the guys prepared the sprint well. Hopefully better next time."

Here's the stage four report from third-place Sam Welsford's Team DSM:

With the climbers battling it out on the previous stage finish to Jebel Jais, the sprinters had their chance to shine today with a flat finish at Dubai Harbour. It was a steady start to proceedings with a three rider breakaway escaping almost from the flag drop and quickly building up an advantage of around three minutes. With all Team DSM riders in the peloton, focus remained on staying safe, looking after each other and protecting finisher Sam Welsford for the finale.

As the kilometres ticked by, the gap to the breakaway dwindled and the catch was eventually made at five kilometres to go. Andreas Leknessund and Harm Vanhoucke did some good early positioning work, before the experienced Alex Edmondson took over as the race charged towards the flamme rouge. Edmondson dropped off last leadout Niklas Märkl who guided Welsford through the final turn, but it quickly became a chaotic sprint as some riders from another team detached themselves from their sprinter.

Märkl bided his time before Welsford came through, entering the last few hundred metres in second wheel. Launching a strong sprint, Welsford gave everything to the finish and throwing his bike at the line, missing out on the win by a fraction of a wheel but still taking a great third place on the day.

Here's another photo of the sprint.

Welsford said: “It was a good day for the team. Unfortunately, we’ve lost Frederik and Tobi so far in the race but the boys are still as hungry and committed as ever. We had a good sprint. I think we were really patient and smart in the final, and we were able to move up with good time. The boys put me in a good position and I can’t fault their commitment. It was an amazing feeling to see these guys go full for you. The sprint itself was super hard. I had a good run but was forced to go a little bit earlier than I would have liked and ran out of legs in the last five metres. I’m really happy with how the legs are though and I’m keen to get stuck into the next two sprint days. We can improve on some things and also myself in the sprint too, so I’m really looking forward to seeing if we can get on that top step.”

Team DSM coach Matt Winston added: “I think it was a good job by the guys today. Obviously we’re down a few riders so we have to really time our leadout to perfection. We said the last corner was our focus point and I think the GC guys did a great job to bring our sprint train into position for that. Sam opened up the sprint and could use the momentum there and just tied up before the line, but it was a really good effort and a promising third place. We’re looking forward to the next sprints.”

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Here's the UAE Tour stage four report from GC leader Remco Evenepoel's Team Soudal Quick-Step:

Remco Evenepoel enjoyed his first day in the overall lead of the Middle East’s only World Tour race, arriving home in the same time as the winner after 174 kilometers and almost four hours in the saddle.

Remco Evenepoel in red, carefully guarded by his Soudal Quick-Step teammates. Getty Sport photo

Stage 4 was a rather quiet one, with a three-man breakaway in the spotlight with five kilometers to go, when the peloton made the catch. The wide roads in Dubai, where the race concluded, made for quite a chaotic finale, as every team tried to take the front of the bunch and bring its sprinter in the perfect position. Guided by Bert Van Lerberghe, Belgian Champion Tim Merlier was also there and kicked out 200 meters from the line, but he was boxed in for a split second and lost the momentum. In the end, the stage 1 winner finished in ninth place, as Juan Sebastian Molano (UAE Team Emirates) took the victory.

Evenepoel was again in the spotlight after the stage, taking to the podium to receive the red jersey and the white one, as the 23-year-old World Champion also leads the youth classification, ahead of Friday’s journey to Umm al Quwain.

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Here's the UAE Tour report from Team Bora-hansgrohe:

Today's 174 km long stage began, and after a small detour into the desert, also concluded in Dubai. As expected, the race concluded with a mass sprint at the end of a 700 m long finishing straight directly at the Dubai Marina. During the race, BORA - hansgrohe showed themselves continously active at the head of the field and kept the breakaway at a controllable distance of around 2:30 minutes.

After the race came together, the squad from Raubling joined the other sprinters' teams at the head of affairs and fought for position for the sprint finale, yet came a little too late to the front in the sprint and were then slightly boxed in. With the win being taken by Juan Molano, Danny van Poppel took sixth place while Sam Bennett had to be content with eighth place.

The peloton spent the day together.

From the Finish Line:
"It was a long day and everyone knew that the victory would be decided in a sprint. We are still analysing where and what we were lacking in the finale. But we definitely made it to the front too late. In the finishing straight the guys were a bit blocked in the headwind and Danny could never really get going with Sam on his back wheel. Of course, the result is miles away from what we hoped for today, as we really expected a lot in the finale. Tomorrow we'll have another chance and we'll see how we can do it better then." - Bernhard Eisel, Sports Director

And here's the UAE Tour report from Arnaud Demare's Team Groupama-FDJ:

In Dubai on Thursday, on stage 4 of the UAE Tour, Arnaud Démare did not get the opportunity to really show his legs. The Groupama-FDJ sprinter finished beyond the top-10 in what was a highly contested mass sprint, where he never found his way through. Two other opportunities will come in the next two days for the former French champion.

We'll see how Démare (shown after winnng stage 6 of the 2022 Giro d'Italia) does in the upcoming UAE Tour stages. Sirotti photo

The home stretch specialists were to return in the spotlight this Thursday, on the fourth day of racing in the Emirates. One hundred and seventy-four kilometres were on the day’s menu, and the elevation gain was almost non-existent. As for the wind, it was not as intense as during the opening stage and was therefore not expected to have a real impact on the race.

“It was the traditional stage of Dubai, as we had to cross the city from North to South passing by the Universal Exhibition”, specified Sébastien Joly. Despite a predictable outcome, Alexis Baudin (AG2R-Citroën), Samuele Zoccarato and Alessandro Tonelli (Green Project-Bardiani CSF-Faizenè) decided to take the front and led the stage until the last ten kilometres. Very much in control, the bunch eventually easily caught the fugitives three kilometres from the line, and the preparation for the long-awaited sprint could take place. “This morning we had a good look at the footage of the women’s UAE Tour, which offered the same finish,” added Sébastien.

Due to the large competition of sprinters, many trains battled in the final minutes to position at the front. Ignatas Konovalovas also tried to move up Laurence Pithie, Bram Welten and Arnaud Démare. “We had planned to come from the back in the last kilometre, which the guys managed to do rather well”, said Sébastien. “Unfortunately, we did not find a gap before the home stretch and Arnaud couldn’t really sprint.” The French rider remained slightly in the back in this fast sprint, and eventually took 16th place without really launching his effort. “We will have a video debriefing tomorrow morning in order to improve what we can,” commented Sébastien. “Arnaud still said that there were good things. Certainly, the result is not what we hoped for, but tactically, good things have been put in place for the first time with this new group, in particular with Laurence and with Bram as a last lead-out man”.

Michael Storer finished in the peloton, retaining his 21st place overall, while two more opportunities are to come for Arnaud Démare and his train.

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The classics are coming: The Belgian bike racing season opens Saturday at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

Here’s the preview from Team EF Education-EasyPost:

The season so far has been a prelude.

In Belgium, at least, bike racing begins on Opening Weekend at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. We’re bringing Stefan Bissegger, Owain Doull, Jens Keukeleire, Jonas Rutsch, Tom Scully, James Shaw, and Julius van den Berg to the first great Flemish race of 2023.

Sunny stage races in Australia or the French riviera are good prep, but, for the cycling-mad people of Flanders, the real tests of a bike racer will always be their one-day classics, which start this Saturday in Gent. For over a century, the Flemish countryside has been mapped in their collective consciousness by the feats of cyclists, racing across the small, steep bergs and cobblestoned roads of their farmland. The Omloop is the first of these spring races, which are run over much of the same terrain, leading up to the grand finale at the Tour of Flanders on the second of April.

Our sports director Sebastian Langeveld won the Omloop in 2011. Having grown up watching the classics from across the border in the Netherlands, it was the greatest sporting honor of his career.

Sebastian Langeveld (left) beats Juan Antonio Flecha to win the 2011 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. Sirotti photo

“The way I always saw it, and the way people from northern Europe always see it, is that it is the first real classic,” Sebastian says. “Everybody then goes to Tirreno, Paris-Nice, and then you have to wait a couple more weeks for E3, Dwaars door Vlaanderen, and the big one, Flanders, but for classics riders the Omloop is the first big race. For guys from northern Europe, it is super important, because there are not so many chances to win a classic. Even now, I am a little bit nervous for the race, in a good way.”

Sebastian knows just how much work it takes to be competitive at the Omloop. “ I would be busy with the Omloop from basically my first ride on the bike in November,” he says.

When the commissaire’s flag drops to get the Omloop under way on Saturday, the riders will be raring to put an entire winter’s worth of effort into action on the cobbled hills of Flanders.

Stand on one of those hills on a clear spring day and look out over the woods and drab fields mottled with smoke stacks, church towers, and red-brick towns, and you can see most of the decisive points of the region’s great bike races. In the Omloop, the finale begins with the Wolvenberg, followed by the Molenberg, Leberg, Berendries, Kapelmuur, and Bosberg. There’s then just 12.5 kilometers to race to the finish in Ninove.

Thousands of cycling fans from all around the world will line the slopes of those hills on race day. They will bring their barbecues and beer and Lion of Flanders flags, and blast folk tunes and techno from loudspeakers as they wait for the racers to arrive. They will watch the peloton approach across the surrounding hills, jostling for position on roads hardly wider than a rider’s shoulders, under the chop-chop-chop of the TV helicopters, and then explode, time after time, as the riders in front attack up the steepest stony pitches, until only the strongest among them are left. When the race finally arrives, it will be bedlam, as the crowd surges forward and yells encouragement to the racers, from the first, driving up over the stones at awesome speeds, to the hollow-eyed stragglers, who must use all of their willpower to drag themselves to the finish, spent.

For the racers, the classics are the most stressful races on their calendar. For hours, they need to hold their concentration, as they twist and turn down narrow tractor tracks, racing around roundabouts, and onto the cobblestones in a constant fight for position. Every rider wants to be at the front to stay ahead of the crashes and constant sprinting to catch up after the bottlenecks that form in every corner. One risky move to gain spots can save a rider the energy he might need to play a role later in the race or send him tumbling into a ditch. That means that everyone takes risks, hopping curbs and daring each other not to brake into corners from kilometer zero to the end. This tension reaches a peak before the key climbs and cobblestone sectors in the finale, where riders have to be in the first 15 or 20 riders to have any chance of going with the race-winning moves.

Riders like Jonas Rutsch thrive on this. Nothing else in cycling compares to racing up a climb like the Muur van Geraardsbergen, rounding the final corner out of the woods and seeing that chapel just a couple of hundred cobbled meters ahead, as thousands of fans scream his name over the stone wall from the hill above.

“It is quite steep and it’s on cobbles as well, so it is crazy hard,” Jonas says,” but the atmosphere on the Muur van Geraardsbergen is really special, so there is always a lot of motivation when you go up there. For me, these are the real races, the races that suit me the most. The cobbles, the adrenaline, the atmosphere is just one big package that means racing.”

On Saturday, Jonas will be looking for a breakthrough result. He has finished 11th at Paris-Roubaix before. That race is his main goal this spring, but he is determined to prove that he can race with the best right through this year’s classics campaign.

“My winter was really, really good so far, with no sickness. Everything was like we planned,” Jonas says. “The Omloop is now the race where it gets really serious for the first time. Everything so far was more like a smooth drive in. With the Omloop, the classics season finally starts, so I am looking forward to it.”

At the Omloop, our team will take the race to their rivals and set out to create chances right to the end.

“For Jonas, it is a great opportunity to do a very good race, but not only for him,” Sebastian says. “We have a roster of guys who are really good bike riders and can create opportunities and create situations. Obviously the race is going to be hard. It will depend a little bit on the wind and stuff, but there are whole sections where the race is open and you can create a situation by being out front in the race, and then there is the Muur in the finale like the old final of Flanders. It is going to be a great race.”

You are going to want to watch on Saturday. The classics are about to arrive. From now, until the end of April, every minute of racing could be decisive. For the full experience—or the best you can get without making the trek to Flanders—stock up on Trappist beers and fries or make whipped-cream topped coffees and waffles.

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