01 Mar Cavendish Strike First in Abu Dhabi Tour Sprint
Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) claimed stage 1 of the Abu Dhabi Tour with an impressive sprint that saw off his rivals in a finish dominated by crashes. The Manxman held off a late charge from André Greipel (Lotto Soudal), while Marcel Kittel (QuickStep-Floors) was among the fallers in the final 1,000 metres.
The final five kilometres were marred by falls. Trek-Segafredo’s Alberto Contador and Bauke Mollema both hit the deck but were excellently paced back to the peloton by their team. Heading into the line, the road narrowed, and a touch of wheels saw Kittel and number of other riders fall. Sky’s Owain Doull, among those tangled up in the crash, emerged from the incident with his left shoe showing signs of having been sliced by Kittel’s disc brake rotor.
Cavendish came through the carnage unscathed, and was well led out by his team. The British rider allowed Niccolò Bonifazio (Bahrain-Merida) to come around him, and used the Italian as he sheltered from the wind. With 150 metres to go Cavendish raced onto the Italian’s wheel, with Greipel in pursuit. The German, however, was unable to come around his rival, and was forced to settle for second, with Bonifazio holding on for third.
After taking his first win of the season, Cavendish now leads the overall standings from Greipel.
“I can’t fault anyone in the team. If I’d lost it would have been only my fault. It was the same finish as last year and I was only third then, with us having made some mistakes. We went through what we did wrong last year, tried to do the complete opposite and that’s what happened,” said Cavendish.
The stage was billed as the first heavyweight contest with the lion’s share of the world’s best sprinters on the start line. And as Lotto Soudal, Quick-Step, and Dimension Data fought for control at the front of the bunch, the stage was set for a thrilling finale. Team Sky and Orica-Scott looked to play their part for Elia Viviani and Caleb Ewan, respectively, but the Australian fell with Kittel, while Viviani was unable to challenge his rivals, and surfed home in fifth place.
For Cavendish, the win was the perfect tonic to ignite his season after a purposefully steady build-up through January. For the other sprinters, and the watching public, there are two more rounds remaining in this race for the fastmen. Cavendish has landed the first blow but the heavyweight contest is far from over.
The early skirmishes of the race were marked by a six-man break slipping clear. Manuele Mori (UAE Team Emirates), Artur Ershov (Gazprom-Rusvelo), David Lozano (Novo Nordisk), Artyom Zakharov (Astana), Mirco Maestri (Bardiani-CSF) and Kazushige Kuboki (Nippo-Vini Fantini) were afforded a healthy four-minute plus lead in the opening hours of action but with pan-flat course, and so many sprint trains willing and able to flex their muscles, there was little chance in an opportunist move succeeding.
A series of falls took down Alex Dowsett (Movistar) and Juraj Sagan (Bora) but the entire peloton was breathing down the breakaway’s neck as the final 40 kilometres approached.
With 35 kilometres remaining only Zakharov, Kuboki, Mori remained out front, with their advantage teetering at just over a minute, a slim lead that evaporated quickly in the desert sun as Lotto Soudal and Quick-Step combined forces.
The catch made, Movistar hustled to the front in a bid to protect Nairo Quintana (Movistar) but there was no such response from Trek-Segafredo who saw Contador fall, with the Spaniard forced to chase on a teammate’s bike.
Contador made it back to the front of the bunch with 3,000 metres remaining but there would be no such luck for Kittel. The German looked to be well-positioned but a split in his leadout appeared to cause panic and with the road narrowing several riders on the left were forced wide. A touch of wheels, just as the bunch steamed through the flamme rouge, caught Kittel and several other riders.
Up ahead, Dimension Data had both the numbers and the positioning to see out the victory. Greipel looked isolated as he moved into Cavendish’s slipstream but he was powerless as the Dimension Data rider opened for the line.