Dubai: Tadej Pogacar of Team UAE Emirates, the two-time Tour de France champion, retained his UAE Tour crown in style on Saturday - in a re-run with his main rival Adam Yates of Ineos Grenadiers.
The 23-year-old Slovenian, who held the overall leader's jersey for a better part of the race, sprinted away from Yates to win the 148-km tough climb up Jebel Hafeet for the Stage VII and with it the title.
Yates attacked but as the rest of the pack dropped away, Pogacar stuck to his wheel, before stepping on the pedals and surging away round the final pair of hairpins.
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“At one moment I was really suffering but luckily Adam also slowed down a bit,” said Pogacar, who started the stage with a 17-second edge over the Englishman.
“I was in the lead in front of him, so I didn’t need to attack and make seconds. I was just trying to follow. His attacks are one of the best attacks in the world.”
Pogacar crossed the line a second ahead of Yates, with Spaniard Pello Bilbao of Bahrain Victorious finishing third five seconds back. Yates was second overall at 22 seconds and Bilbao climbed to third , 48 seconds behind the winner.
The domination of the home team was further underlined by the fact that Team UAE Emirates had three top-10 finishes this year, with Portugal's Almeida in fourth position and Rafal Majka of Poland in seventh.
“It is the first race of the season but for us it is one of the most important,” said Pogacar, who already has 33 major victories including two Tour de France titles.
On the same climb last year, Pogacar edged Yates at the line with the rest of the field far behind. Pogacar also beat Yates to the top in the other climb on this year’s tour, up Jebel Jais, to take the overall lead.
The rivalry between Pogacar and Yates had spiced up the event for three years on the trot now. In 2020, Yates prevailed in the curtailed edition of the event with the Slovenian finishing in second position. Last year saw a reversal of positions while Pogacar also had the last laugh this year.
(Al Ain to Jebel Hafeet, 148 km)
1. Tadej Pogacar (SLO) UAE Team Emirates 3:20:24
2. Adam Yates (GBR) INEOS Grenadiers +1
3. Pello Bilbao (ESP) Bahrain Victorious +5
4. Jo”.OGBPo Almeida (POR) UAE Team Emirates +15
5. Lucas Plapp (AUS) INEOS Grenadiers +16
6. Carlos Verona (ESP) Movistar Team “
7. Rafal Majka (POL) UAE Team Emirates “
8. Aleksandr Vlasov (RUS) BORA - hansgrohe +30
9. Geoffrey Bouchard (FRA) AG2R - Citro”.On Team +53
10. Chris Harper (AUS) Jumbo - Visma
1. Tadej Pogacar (SLO) UAE Team Emirates 25:38:16
2. Adam Yates (GBR) INEOS Grenadiers +22
3. Pello Bilbao (ESP) Bahrain Victorious +48
4. Aleksandr Vlasov (RUS) BORA - hansgrohe +54
5. Jo”.OGBPo Almeida (POR) UAE Team Emirates +55
6. Carlos Verona (ESP) Movistar Team +1:17
7. Rafal Majka (POL) UAE Team Emirates +1:24
8. Geoffrey Bouchard (FRA) AG2R - Citro”.On Team +1:46
9. Romain Bardet (FRA) Team DSM “
10. David De La Cruz (ESP) Astana - Qazaqstan Team +1:58