Flat flat flat then “whack” is how I would describe today’s stage at the UAE Tour. The square-shaped lap in the desert provided some mellow headwinds, potential crosswinds, and fast tailwinds, but never had the right combination for the crosswind action we saw yesterday.
Our plan for Mitchelton-SCOTT was to ride for Tsgabu. Being here as a climber-light squad meant the final teammate duties fell to me. It was another day of learning how to work with each other, and the guys did a great job of keeping us out of the wind and fueled up throughout the stage.
I definitely didn’t come here expecting to be up there with the best climbers, but I also wanted to do my best with the opportunity of not having to plow wind or work too hard in the early phases of the stage.
Like any flat stage with a summit finish, the battle for position started super early and was especially hectic and fast with a full peloton and plenty of sprinters and lead-out guys there to whip up the pace and play chicken into the roundabouts and corners.
The team did a great job of keeping Tsgabu up front and I ended up surfing on my own. Approaching the final climb, I linked up with Jack Bauer. He did a fantastic job of dropping me off in a good spot---not too close to the front but far enough up that I was clear of the dropped rider shrapnel as the pace lifted.
Just like last year, the pace on the climb was very fast, but I think a little steadier. Still, once we hit the meat of the climb, I was doing everything I could to hold the wheel and stay in the group. I saw Tsgabu start to slide backward and eventually lose contact. I ratcheted it back and waited for him for a moment hoping he would refind his rhythm. He told me just to go, so I set out to regain contact with the group I’d dropped from.
The effort crushed my legs, but I steadily clawed back a few guys as they started to explode while other riders came past from behind. I kept the pressure on and finished with a respectable small group just over a minute back. The communication delay is another example of how I’m learning to work with and for my new teammates, so I’ll chalk it up to experience.
Now we reshift our focus. Tomorrow will be an interesting stage as it could suit sprinters or even fast GC riders. I was sixth on tomorrow’s finish when I last did the Dubai Tour (2015), but my teammate Luca will be our rallying point and leader. If we come into the dam as a full bunch, we will look to slot up there for the punchy uphill kick to the line.
Race Images: Getty Images