UAE Tour

Stage 6 - UAE Tour


Stage 6 at the UAE Tour was very chaotic with a big crash at the start that caused confusion and havoc. Our plan was to let some guys give the break a try if there was interest from other strong teams and Alba did a great job getting himself in there during those extremely fast and chaotic kilometers at the beginning of the stage.

We were hoping Lotto would let the gap go a little bigger and believed they had a chance of staying away. Like always, it depended on the wind direction and how the peloton rode the early portions of the climb.

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The final climb was another bizarre desert affair. The air quality was absolutely atrocious. For me, that was a decisive factor. The pace was quite controlled and moderate for the first 10 kilometers and the group remained large. With the big sweeping corners and large group, it became a game of holding position while still staying out of the wind and conserving energy.

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The guys did a great job positioning Tsgabu and me in the approach to the climb and on the first half of the climb thanks to some great intel from Luka who had ridden the climb before.

Sam, Jack, and Callum hung on late into the climb and gave us a hand with sheltering and positioning. Once the pace cranked up, Tsgabu and I tried to stay together but were both a little too far back when the front guys opened gaps. I closed a few of them, which proved to be my undoing in losing contact with the group but helped Tsgabu stay there a little longer.

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Considering the length of this climb and knowing this race was mostly meant to be about riding into it, I’m happy I had the chance to push myself all the way to the line. Another step in learning to work with the guys. 

I didn’t come here expecting to have the boys rally for me, but it’s a great example of the culture and closeness within this team that we all chip in where we can for each other, and I am excited to build on this in the coming races.

Race Images: Getty Images

Stage 5 - UAE Tour


It was a long day out there for at the UAE Tour. Despite being a fairly small country in size, we seem to rack up a lot of time on the road between cars and bikes, Stage 5 was 11 hours of constant moving.

Out on the road, it was once again windy and we had yet another nasty sand storm that coated the eyes, mouth, bikes and everything else. I had a few moments of questioning what I was doing here, riding across the barren desert on what seemed like a road to nowhere, hacking up sand and scraping my eyelids across my eyeballs. While wind direction was enough to keep some tension in the bunch, there wasn’t any major wind drama.

On days like this, some guys in the bunch complain about being bored or that they are losing fitness.  I put my efforts on the mental focus that it takes to ride in these conditions and so close to one another for five hours. Trust me, it is no walk in the park. 

The lead into the sprint was fast and quite hectic. At one moment I was on the right side just behind a lined up FDJ. The middle of the road opened next to them and they started yelling and screaming at each other to go! Moments later a couple of them were hurtling off their bikes and I just squeaked around them. I felt a bike or body nick my rear wheel as I went by. It was close.

 In the finish, we tried to give Luka a hand but were no match for the hyper horsepower sprint trains.

Tomorrow we get back to a new big climb at the end of the stage.  A 20 kilometer summit finish will surely prove decisive and provide another chance to test the condition after five days of racing.

Stage 4 - UAE Tour


I’ll be picking the sand and desert grime out of my hair, ears, eyes and everywhere else for a while following Stage 4 of the UAE Tour. 

A stronger breakaway group went away early and were given a substantial leash. Back in the bunch, the top GC teams played some games trying to get each other to work. I never can quite understand that squabbling, especially if you are a team like Movistar with a guy like Valverde. If you show time and time again that you have the best guy in the race, just stick a guy on the front and get to work.

They eventually did and we knew it would be a fast second half of the stage heading into some small climbs and a punchy uphill finish. 

The forecasted light winds proved false and the group was back into high alert as the winds whipped up and sand rained down on us midway through the stage. For a moment, we had some massive crosswind splits and visibility was so bad that it was hard to see who was where on the road. I think it came more out of defense than offense and we eventually regrouped as the sand storm subsided and we headed into slightly hillier and sheltered terrain.

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We planned to position my Luka for the final 200-meter uphill sprint, and we did well staying up front and definitely got lucky to be on the left side of the road when the massive pileup happened around six kilometers remaining. 

Then pace eased up as everyone took stock of who was there and who wasn’t. This made the final technical kilometer even more dicey with the group swarming on both sides. When we hit the wall in the final 200 meters, I knew I was too far back as we rounded the corner. The guys in front of me were instantly coming backward. Fortunately, Luka went through in better position and powered to a solid fifth place. I was just outside of the top 10.

Even more than the placing, I’m happy to be safely through and have another day of some substantial race efforts in the legs, though I’m sure they will leave a mark!

Tomorrow should be a flatter sprint affair, but with these shoddy forecasts and windy conditions, it’s anyone’s guess what sort of shenanigans will play out on the road.

Race Images: Getty Images

Stage 3 - UAE Tour


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. 

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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.

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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.

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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

Stage 2 - UAE Tour


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.

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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

Stage 1 - UAE Tour


The race season kicked off with a blazing fast TTT at the UAE Tour. It was a good way to start the season and to finally have my first official outing with the MTS crew.

These TTT days pack so much into a short race effort, so I feel like I got a lot of bang for my buck in terms of settling in with the guys, the bikes, staff, team protocols, schedules, etc.

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When you are out in the desert and away from the usual team trucks and buses, it means that everyone is a little more relaxed and adaptable around the TT buzz. For me, this is a solid way to start.

Physically and mentally, it means a very focused and intense effort and today was far from flawless.

We almost all came crashing down after a touch of wheels and slight misdirection from the wind and miscommunication after about 6 kilometers. Fortunately, we kept it up with a couple of guys going off into the sand. Quickly we regrouped and got it going again. After that, we found a nice rhythm and were able to empty the tank by the finish. Everyone gave everything of themselves for the team.

For me, I really appreciated how quickly we regrouped and handled the adversity. It’s a real takeaway to see how everyone handles moments like those. For me, I will only continue to improve on the new TT bike, and I’m confident we laid a solid foundation for the year ahead.

And we have maybe learned a few lessons and place to improve. Tomorrow we head into the road stages where the wind always is a factor and potentially decisive.

Race Images: Andrew Laity @andrewjlaity