Dubai: Australian Caleb Ewan escaped a big crash and then showed he had the legs to register his first win for Lotto Soudal by clinching the UAE Tour’s 197km stage IV, starting from Palm Jumeirah to Hatta Dam on Wednesday.
“I knew, coming in, this uphill finish might be the best chance of a win with all the fast sprinters here this week,” said a jubilant Ewan, who brushed aside a last-ditch effort from second-placed Italy’s Matteo Moschetti of Trek-Segafredo at the uphill finish.
“It’s always hard to get the first win of the year and with the change of teams and everything, it’s good to get the first one in the bag. Hopefully, this gets the ball rolling for the year,” added Ewan, who completed the stage with a time of 4 hours 27 minutes 07 seconds. Slovenian Primoz Roglic of Jumbo-Visma was third and it was enough for him to take a firm claim on the red leader’s jersey for the fourth day in a row.
Roglic said: “I was lucky that I was protected. I just heard the noise behind. It was again the first time for me here like yesterday to race this course. You can just see some videos but it is really not the same when you ride it. I was really happy to fight hard just to come to the top.
“Ewan is a really, really fast guy. We all saw him and there was enough space but we could go no faster on this climb. Tomorrow and the last day are more for the sprinters and Friday will be the hardest day, but there can always be unexpected things like crashes,” said Roglic, who now has a 21-second lead over the rest.
Three representatives from Gazprom-Rusvelo — points leader Stephen Kuriyanov, Igor Boev and Artem Nych along with Alessandro De Marchi of CCC, Team Novo Nordisk’s Charles Planet and William Clarke of Trek — Segafredo were in the breakaway pack for most part of the race.
Kuriyanov pipped Planet to claim the first intermediate sprint of Al Quadra Cycle Track after 47 kms.
The second intermediate sprint at Labha after 88.9km was a complete reversal as here Planet got the better of Kuriyanov but the latter would keep the green points jersey and black jersey for leading the intermediate sprints going into the fifth stage. By now, the breakaways had swelled their lead over the peloton to 7 minutes 30 seconds.
The lead over the chasing pack, with around 90 kms remaining, was increased to a maximum 8 minutes 02 seconds with Movistar riders leading the peloton, including the red jersey hope and third stage winner Alejandro Valverde. Leader Roglic was well protected by his teammates and so was third-placed David Gaudu of Groupama-FDJ.
Getting to the foot of Jebel Jaish wasn’t easy as the riders had to battle through gusty winds around the 55km mark from finish. Due to crosswind, the peloton split into three parts around 47km from finish and front bunch was 3:20 down on the breakaways, while the back-markers were at 3:50.
Roglic, Tom Dumoulin and Valverde were in the front pack while UAE Team Emirates’ Dan Martin was in the second group. Valverde was seen venting his frustration at his teammates for not pressing and it didn’t take long for the other teams also to respond and group bunched again quickly.
UAE Team Emirates’ Martin remains sixth in the overall classification. Diego Ulissi, who finished seventh, said: “We had planned to work for Gaviria but the crash changed our strategy and I was given permission to go for the sprint. The final steep section was too short for my characteristics. I was good but I’m not explosive enough for that climb. I entered the last corner in 10th and managed to pass some riders but it wasn’t enough for the win.”
Stage 5 of the UAE Tour is 181-km stage starting from Sharjah — Flag Island to Khor Fakkan.