Abu Dhabi: The Al Fursan aerobatic team lit the Corniche skies smoking UAE colours while below, in a thrilling bunch finish, UAE Team Emirate’s Fernando Gaviria pipped firm favourite Elia Viviani of Deceuninck-Quick-Step to clinch the 184km Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi Stage 2 on Monday.
Caleb Ewan of Lotto-Soudal took third by finishing ahead of some of the other star-studded field who didn’t give much challenge once Gaviria made his move from the right.
The Colombian sprinter, well-placed by his team’s lead-out man Alexander Kristoff, thus justified his selection in the team straightaway on his debut race at his sponsor’s backyard and taking the green jersey for points.
However, Primoz Roglic, whose side Jumbo-Visma won the Team Time Trial on Sunday’s Stage 1, continued to retain the overall leader’s red jersey after safely finishing in the main bunch.
“This win means a lot to me, the team and our sponsors. It was a difficult sprint because of the head wind, but I had good legs, so I could go with 200m and hold off the others. Kristoff is one of the best sprinters in the world and today he did a great job of supporting me along with the rest of the team; so I’m very happy,” said Gaviria, who crossed the line with a time of 4h36’32’’.
Earlier, immediately after the start from the Yas Mall, Igor Boev and Stephen Kuriyanov of Gazprom-Rusvelo along with Sam Brand and Charles Planet of Team Novo Nordisk broke away. They swelled the lead over the peloton, comprising of overall leader Roglic, to 12 minutes and had a 7.5km lead after the first 55km.
The first intermediate sprint at Al Bahia after 97km was won by Kuriyanov. He, along with Planet, remained in the lead but Boev and Brand ran out of steam and were caught by the chasing pack at the 109km mark.
With little over 60km to go, the peloton was fast catching up with the breakaways and the lead was reduced to three and half minutes. The second intermediate sprint at Yas Marina Circuit with 40km to go was won by Planet ahead of Kuriyanov. The duo then again picked up pace and increased the edge to 4”30secs with 33.5km remaining while passing through Saadiyat Island. Kuriyanov and Planet were finally caught by the peloton as soon as they passed the Lourve Abu Dhabi with 14km to go.
Then the tactical ploy started with all top teams trying to place their sprinters in front for the bunch sprint. In the final kilometre, hopefuls like Mark Cavendish of Dimension Data, Marcel Kittel of Katusha-Alpecin didn’t get clear opening to hit the front but Gaviria took full advantage of the lead-out by Kristoff and then staved off the challenge from Viviani to win by a wheel.
UAE Team Emirates owner Matar Suhail Al Yabhouni was elated with his side’s success and was all praise for Gaviria. “Excellent result today and thanks to everyone for standing behind our team. The team worked very well together. We are very proud. Gaviria is a new recruit and a champion. He did it with the support of his teammates but they still have a long way to go.
The 179km crucial Stage 3 on Tuesday will be for the climbers and the GC contenders and will go around Al Ain before finishing with a 10.8km testing climb with an average gradient of 6.6% at the top of Jebel Hafeet.
1. Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) 4h36’32”
2. Elia Viviani (Deceuninck Quick Step) st
6. Caleb Ewen (Mitchelton Scott) st
1. Primoz Roglic (Jumbo Visma) 4h53’21”
2. Jos Vas Emdem (Jumbo Visma) st
3. Lauren de Plus (Jumbo Visma) st