The UCI Road World Champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) celebrates after winning the third stage of the UAE Tour at the Jebel Hafeet on Tuesday. Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

Al Ain: World Road Race champion Alejandro Valverde of Movistar seems to have taken a liking for the 10.8-km gruelling climb of Jebel Hafeet. The Spaniard clinched the 179-km crucial mountain Stage 3 of the UAE Tour, brushing aside the challenge from General Classification leader Primoz Roglic of Jumbo-Visma on Tuesday.

The Spaniard had beaten Colombian Miguel Ángel Lopez last year to clinch the same stage and later the Abu Dhabi Tour. This time round again, Valverde showed that he had enough power in his legs after bursting into the front 150 metres from finish and clinch the stage with a time of 4 hour 44 minutes 50 seconds.

“I felt really good today as there was quite a bit of wind. The climb started quite quickly and I just had to follow Roglic. I did exactly what I’ve done. I won here last year and I knew how to take on the climb bit by bit. I’ve won a stage and I really want to win the race, but we’re going to have to wait and see,” said a jubilant Valverde, who is now just 14 seconds adrift of leader Roglic.

Roglic deserves a lot of praise for his efforts to finish second to keep the leader’s red jersey for the third day in a row. The third place was bagged by David Gaudu of Groupama ahead of Emanuel Buchman of Bora — Hansgrohe. UAE Team Emirates’ Dan Martin had to be content with fifth spot, finishing 12 seconds behind.

“It’s true that I’ve tried to win the stage as well as defending the jersey. It was my first time here so I didn’t know the finish but most importantly, we’ve showed today with the guys that we are a super strong team,” said 29-year-old Roglic.

Speaking about his showing, Martin said: “We wanted to try and win every stage this week as it’s our home Tour, but I couldn’t have given any more. It’s not what I wanted, but I am still happy with my performance. My guys did an incredible job for me and it showed the real spirit of the team. As for the General Classification, there are still a few complicated stages to go — especially with the wind — so we are going to take it day by day.”

The 179-km stage that started from the Al Ain University, once again saw Igor Boev and Stephen Kuriyanov of Gazprom-Rusvelo breakaway along with Team Novo Nordisk’s Charles Planet, who this time had teammate Fabia Calabria for company.

The first intermediate sprint at Al Quattara after 15km was won by Planet. All four riders then swelled the lead to 4 minutes 04 seconds at the 60-km mark and the peloton was led for most of the time by Team Jumbo-Visma comprising of race leader Roglic. The speed really picked up with 87-km to go and the front runners’ lead was reduced to a mere one minute.

The second intermediate sprint at Green Al Mubazzarah saw some aggressive riding from everyone and there was a lot of movement in the bunch. However, Russian Kuriyanov here too showed he had the power and the will to win the sprint for some crucial bonus points.

The 205km fourth stage on Wednesday will start from Dubai and end at the Hatta Dam. The final kilometre of the hilly finale will get steeper and there is also a 17 per cent ramp heading to the finish line. The fourth stage starts at 11.30am and is expected to finish around 4.40pm local time.