Reigning world champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) bided his time and struck at the precise moment to bridge to the three-man attack in the closing 2.5 kilometres toward the summit finish atop Jebel Hafeet on Stage 3 of the inaugural UAE Tour, which combines the best of the now-defunct Abu Dhabi Tour and Dubai Tour.
Valverde: I used my experience to win
After completing the majority of the 179km route from Al Ain to the top of the 10.8km climb, the 38-year-old Spaniard made it look effortless as he joined the trio before overtaking the group, which included German Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Frenchman David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ), and race leader Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), in the final 300 metres.
Roglic delighted to start season with GC win in UAE
"I wanted to get this first victory so badly,” said Valverde after claiming his first win since capturing the rainbow jersey last September. “I knew that it would be hard because of the strong field racing here, but I felt well and, above all, measured my efforts well. There was so much wind, more than what's normal here, and I knew that those who launched their attacks too early could pay in the end.
“That's why I knew Roglič's initial acceleratino was a bit too early,” continued the world champion, who captured the overall title at the Abu Dhabi Tour atop Jebel Hafeet on the fifth and final stage last year. “You had to be really cautious, remain inside the group and jump closer to the finish, not earlier than the spot where I went for it last year.”
Irish veteran Dan Martin (UAE-Team Emirates), who finished fifth 12 seconds back, twice attacked Roglič after sensing trouble in the Slovenian’s stroke before ultimately conceding to the leaders once Valverde bridged across.
“Jumbo-Visma set a really high tempo,” explained Martin after the race. “I saw Primož when he went. He was a little bit on the limit and that’s why I attacked. He was able to come with me. I saw he was really suffering, so I accelerated again. He still had the legs to accelerate after me and that’s where I got dropped.”
Roglič finished second to maintain ownership of the red leader’s jersey with a 14-second lead over Valverde with four stages remaining as the race moves to Dubai.
Wednesday’s Stage 4 features another gruelling finish, this time up the short, but steep Hatta Dam, won by Italian sprinter Sonny Colbrelli in last year’s Dubai Tour. With Colbrelli not on the UAE Tour startlist for Bahrain-Merida following his Stage 4 win at Tour of Oman last week, it is an open field which could include Alexander Kristoff (UAE-Team Emirates) and Elia Viviani (Deceuninck-Quick Step), both of whom finished in the top six on the same stage last year.
For full stage and race results, click here.
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