Stage 2 of the UAE Tour took us out into the desert with an expected bunch sprint in the end, but the day was by no means straight forward. The final sprint was only a small fraction of the action with strong winds making it a day of contrast.
While I’ve gone through the pre-race motions to have the hang of it, the first day of wiring up radios, metering how much food I put in my pockets and having a pre-race strategy meeting with the guys was a bit of an adjustment and reality check that the race season is here. Some additional “new team” challenges included learning how the different bottles are labeled and having a new director on the radio for the first time.
In these desert races, it’s no secret that wind direction makes all the difference. Today, kilometer 66 was the big ‘X’ on everyone’s stem sheet, and that proved accurate. It was the exact point where things heated up and blew apart. Last year, we raced this same section with same wind drama, so that made the battle even more anticipated and crazy.
The bunch split into more than a handful of groups as the wind literally sandblasted us, and everyone panicked to move up while staying as sheltered as possible. It only takes one small gap for a moment and then the elastic snaps.
We had Sam Bewley up in the front group while the rest of us were caught in groups farther back. We contributed to some of the chasing in hopes of keeping the front guys close enough that they would lose some enthusiasm once we reached bigger roads with less drastic wind. Fortunately for us, other top GC and sprint teams missed getting their leaders up there and we had enough to pull things back together.
Then it was calm while everyone refueled and stocked up for the next block of potential wind and sprint lead outs. Tsgabu--our protected GC guy here--had an untimely flat with about 10 km to go, but a quick bike change and teamwork got him back without too much stress.
Tomorrow we head to Jabel Hafeet. I raced up that beast last year, and I don’t have fond memories of it. It’ll be a bit of a climbing test as we work to help Tsgabu do his best ride possible.
Race Images: Getty Images