Dubai: Team Lotto NL – Jumbo’s Dylan Groenewegen swept three of the four jerseys on offer to become the youngest stage winner on the opening day of the 2018 Dubai Tour on Tuesday.
In a stage that was expected to witness a tussle between some of the topmost sprinters in the world, it was Groenewegen stealing the thunder with an explosive sprint that outpaced the likes of Astana Pro Team’s Magnus Cort Nielsen, Quick-Step Floors’ Olympic champion Elia Viviani, BMC Racing Team’s Belgian rider Nathan Van Hooydonck and Alexander Kristoff of UAE Team Emirates at the finish line.
The pace towards the end was so fierce that it left star sprinters such as two-time defending Dubai Tour champion Marcel Kittel of Katusha Alpecin, Team Dimension Data’s Mark Cavendish and Trek-Segafredo’s John Degenkolb outside the top 10.
So dominating was his performance that Groenewegen picked up the blue jersey for stage leader, the red jersey for leading the points’ classification and the RTA’s white jersey for the best young rider along with the trophy for winning the opening day’s Nakheel Stage.
“I think today was a perfect example of keeping our best for the end as a team. I had a good moment and when I saw it I decided to move in and sprint to the finish line. Winning is such a great feeling and I hope we can carry forward this spirit for the remaining four days,” Groenewegen said.
“Tomorrow’s [Wednesday] stage will once again be a sprint and I hope I can be in a similar position to go for it,” the 24-year-old Amsterdam-born cyclist added.
Much of the 167kms of the stage was a constant tussle between Kittel’s Team Katusha Alpecin and the Quick-Step Floors riders. After the opening 20km, the early breakaway group of five – Andrew Fenn [Aqua Blue Sport], Teklehaimanot [Cofidis, Solutions Credits], Mohammad Al Mansouri [UAE national team], Nathan Van Hooydonck [BMC Racing Team] and Charles Planet [Team Novo Nordisk] - had managed to establish a lead of 3.20 minutes over the chasing main peloton.
With the riders moving through the Al Marmoom conservation area and 119km still left in the race, spectators were pleasantly surprised to see His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai watching the race from his car.
As the peloton passed by the Hamdan Sports Complex and Global Village, Aqua Blue Sport’s Andrew Fenn was joined in the front pack by Confidis Solutions Credits’ Daniel Teklehaimanot and UAE national team’s youngster Mohammad Al Mansouri.
With 100km gone, the breakaway of five had their lead cut down to 1.54 minutes approaching the Expo 2020 site, but as they came towards the final 30km it was a cat-and-mouse game between the chasing peloton and the front group. Gradually, only Fenn and Teklehaimanot remained in front till they too were overtaken with less than 10km remaining.
As the riders approached the main trunk of The Palm and with 8.2km still remaining there was a major crash in which Yousuf Mirza and Mohammad Al Mansouri escaped with minor injuries. “It was scary and disorganised towards the end,” Cavendish told Gulf News.
“I am happy to have stayed out of it and safe to ride another day,” added the winner of 30 stages on the Tour de France.
Kittel was in no mood after being boxed out approaching the finish line. “I need my back pack to head straight to the hotel,” the German blurted as he left.
Wednesday’s second stage called the ‘Ras Al Khaimah Stage’ covering 190 kms will be flagged off from Skydive Dubai at 10.45am and proceed through Sharjah, Ajman and Umm Al Quwain to its finish along the Al Quwasim Corniche in Ras Al Khaimah.