Dubai: Soudal-QuickStep’s Tim Merlier was victorious in stage 6 of the UAE Tour after a frantic bunch sprint in Abu Dhabi. The Belgian rider beat Sam Bennett of Bora-Hansgrohe and Dylan Groenewegen of Jayco-Alula to the line.
This penultimate stage was as always going to be a tense affair what with it being the last chance for the sprinters still seeking their first win of the week.
Speed and strength
Merlier was already a winner from the break on the opening day and he showed strength and speed to secure his second win of the week. He hit the front on the crown of the final bend and saw off the fast-closing Bennett. Stage 5 winner Groenewegen had to settle for third ahead of Olav Kooij of Jumbo-Visma and Fernando Gaviria of Movistar.
There was disappointment for Astana-Qazaqstan rider Mark Cavendish as he sustained a puncture inside the final 2km and could not sprint.
“Today was a good one. It was really hectic, everyone was so nervous because it was the last sprint, the last opportunity I think, and it was really dangerous,” Merlier said. “In the last 500 metres, I found the good spot and I went again from far out. Today it was enough. We did a recon of the stage and we knew before it was going to be really hectic, like the last days again. But we found a good way and you need a bit of luck here.”
The stage was animated by a day-long break featuring Larry Warbasse (AG2R Citroën), Edward Planckaert (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Samuele Zoccarato (Green Project-Bardiani CSF-Faizanè). The trio gained a maximum lead just north of four minutes before the peloton began reeling them in, with Warbasse the last man standing with 5km remaining.
Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep) finished safely in the peloton and he remains in the overall lead ahead of Sunday’s mountaintop finale on Jebel Hafeet. The Belgian carries a lead of 9 seconds over Luke Plapp (Ineos), with Pello Bilbao third overall at 13 seconds.
“It’s the highest level of sprinters here so it’s very special for us to win two very beautiful sprints and the TTT. And now there’s one more day to go for us,” said Evenepoel, heavily favoured to seal overall victory on Sunday.
“Of course, it would be a very nice victory here. I already said in the winter, I wanted to be on a good level at the UAEE Tour. We’re going to try to defend this jersey very well and maybe try to go for the stage again tomorrow,” he concluded.
Remco Evenepoel BEL (Soudal - Quick-Step)
1 Tim Merlier BEL (Soudal - Quick-Step)
2 Sam Bennett IRL (BORA - hansgrohe)
3 Dylan Groenewegen NED (Team Jayco - AlUla)
Last stage will be : Feb 26-Stage 7 Al Ain to Jebel Hafeet, 153 km, Road race.