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After a launching a strong solo attack, Chaves was caught by Poels with less than 1km to go but as the Dutchman crashed in the final turn, the Colombian won the Abu Dhabi Tour queen stage and took the overall lead

Photo: Sirotti

ABU DHABI TOUR

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ESTEBAN CHAVES

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MITCHELTON-SCOTT

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10.10.2015 @ 15:07 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) put himself in the perfect position to take the first major stage race win of his career when he came out on top in a hugely dramatic queen stage of the Abu Dhabi Tour. After having launched a strong solo attack from far out, the Colombian faded in the finale and was caught by Wout Poels (Sky) with 700m to go. However, the Dutchman slid out as he was leading the race in the final turn with 50m to go and so Chaves could roll across the line to take both the win and the leader’s jersey.

 

Last year Esteban Chaves did his first grand tour at the Vuelta a Espana and he came out of the Spanish race extremely strongly. He rode aggressively at the World Championships and finished third in the Tour of Beijing at the end of the year.

 

This year he returned to the Spanish grand tour and unlike last year he didn’t crack in the second half, finishing the race in an impressive fifth place. And like in 2015 he has come out of the race in excellent condition as he proved with a splendid performance in Il Lombardia where he looked like the only rider that could match Vincenzo Nibali on the climbs until he was taken out by cramps.

 

That made him hugely ambitious for the Abu Dhabi Tour where he had a chance to get his revenge over the in-form Nibali who lined up alongside Fabio Aru to form a two-pronged Astana attack. However, the Astana pair proved to be no match to the Colombian who rode away with the win in a very dramatic queen stage.

 

Instead, it was Wout Poels who turned out to be his biggest rival and the Dutchman even looked poised to take the win when he accelerated past Chaves and led the Colombian into the final turn with 50m to go. However, he had taken the corner at too much speed and when he slid out, the door was open for Chaves to slowly roll across the line for the stage victory and the overall lead.

 

At the bottom of the final 10.8km climb, Rafaa Chtioui (Skydive) and Alessandro Bazzana (Unitedhealthcare) led the peloton by around a minute but their gap melted away as soon as they hit the lower slopes. While Bazzana sat up and quickly fell back to the peloton, Astana hit the climb hard, with Valerio Agnoli setting a brutal pace that made the peloton explode and sent race leader Elia Viviani (Sky) out the back door.

 

Chtioui did his best to maintain a small advantage but as Alexey Lutsenko took over for Astana, he had to surrender. With 8.5km to go, the Tunisian was caught by the diminished peloton that constantly set riders out the back door.

 

With 8km to go, Lutsenko swung off and left if to Paolo Tiralongo to do more damage. The veteran upped the pace even further and as they entered the final 7km, only his teammates Aru and Nibali, Poels, Leopold König (Sky), Dominik Nerz, Patrick Konrad (Bora-Argon 18), Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida), Javier Moreno, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-QuickStep), Brendan Canty (Drapac), Janez Brajkovic (Unitedhealthcare) and Chaves could hang onto him.

 

Carlos Verona (Etixx-QuickStep) and Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) managed to regain contact while Philippe Gilbert (BMC) and Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Argon 18) were chasing desperately a little further back. However, they never made the junction as Nibali accelerated hard with a little less than 6km to go and only Brambilla could respond.

 

Poels took off in lone pursuit of the lone Italian while Aru, Brajkovic, Chaves, König, Konrad, Valverde and Ulissi formed the first big group. They slowly reeled Poels in but the Dutchman launchd an immediate attack and slowly started to get closer to the two Italians in front.

 

Aru and Chaves tried to catch Poels and looked to be getting back when Chaves made his big attack. The Colombian sprinted past Poels and quickly made it back to Nibali and Brambilla whom he tried to drop with a big surge.

 

Nibali managed to join Chaves and the pair immediately got a big gap over Brambilla and Poels who were next before Aru got back. However, Nibali was clearly on his limit and he cracked spectacularly with 4.5km to go, nearly coming to a standstill.

 

Nibali managed to get back up to speed and joined the three chasers, clearly telling Aru to launch an attack. Poels took off in pursuit with Nibali on his wheel but the Italian was unable to hold onto the Dutchman who made it back to Aru while Nibali dropped back to Brambilla.

 

Entering the final 4km to, Chaves was 15 seconds ahead of his two chasers while Ulissi had come from far back to join Nibali and drop Brambilla. The Colombian was clearly the fastest and pressed his advantage out to 20 seconds with 2.5km to go.

 

That’s when Poels went hard, dropped Aru and slowly started to get closer to Chaves. The gap hovered between 15 and 20 seconds for a while. Aru was desperately trying to stay in contention while Brajkovic had caught Nibali and Ulissi before distancing the Italian champion who fell back to Brambilla, Valverde and König.

 

As he entered the final 2km, Chaves was clearly started to fade while Poels was riding aggressively and suddenly the gap came down quickly. Poels made the junction with 700m to go and latched onto Chaves’ wheel to recover from the effort.

 

Chaves maintained a high pace in the relatively flat section before Poels accelerated hard. The Colombian latched onto his wheel but seemed to be on the verge of cracking as they went into the final turn with 50m to go.

 

That’s when disaster struck for Poels who slid out and could only watch while Chaves rode past to take the stage win. Poels was quickly back on his bike but as he had dropped his chain, he was unable to prevent Aru from passing him and had to settle for second. Ulissi and Brajkovic rounded out the top 5 before Brambilla beat Valverde, König and Nibali in the four-rider sprint for sixth.

 

With the win, Chaves takes the overall lead with a 16-second advantage over Aru as he goes into the final stage. It is made up of 20 laps of the 5.5km Yas Marina Formula 1 circuit where the sprinters are expected to battle it out on the final day of stage racing in 2015.

 

The queen stage

After two days for the sprinters, it was time for the queen stage in the Abu Dhabi Tour which brought the riders over 142km from Al Ain to a summit finish on the Jabel Hafeet mountain. The first part of the stage was completely flat as the riders travelled around the starting city before they hit the bottom of the final climb which averaged 6.6% over 10.8km

 

It was another extremely hot day when the riders gathered for the start in Al Ain. The 100 riders who got to the finish in Abu Dhabi yesterday were all present as they rolled out for their neutral ride.

 

Two riders get clear

After some early attacking, it was some familiar faces that made it into the early break as Rafaa Chtioui (Skydive) and sprints leader Alessandro Bazzana (Unitedhealthcare) who had both been active in the first two stages both attacked again. However, they had to fight hard to get an advantage and they were only 1.14 ahead after 20km of racing.

 

Astana, Movistar and Sky were controlling things firmly and were not intent on letting the situation get out of control. Hence, they had only allowed the escapees to push their advantage out to 1.26 after 33km of racing and it was 1.22 at the 42km mark.

 

Bazzana wins the sprint

Finally, the front duo managed to extend their advantage to more than 2 minutes as they were 2.33 ahead at the 55km mark but they were still controlled firmly. 10km later, they had lost 22 seconds and were only 2.11 ahead.

 

Bazzana beat Chtioui in the first intermediate sprint while Astana, Movistar and Orica-GreenEDGE combined forces in the peloton. Agnoli, Juan Jose Lobato and Mathew Hayman were trading pulls on the front to keep the gap stable at around 2.20 for a while.

 

The chase gets organized

Nonetheless, the gap had gone out to 2.40 as they entered the final 50km and it stayed there for a while until the chase got serious. Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE), Daniel Oss (BMC) and Lobato did the work as the peloton entered the final 30km where they had brought the gap down to 1.20.

 

With a big road, there was no big fight for position and so Lobato was the only rider setting the pace as the peloton entered the final 25km. Hence, the gap started to grown and it was 1.40 when Sky lined up their entire team on the front with 20km to go.

 

Sky take control

Andrew Fenn set the pace but was unable to prevent the gap from going out to 2 minutes with 16km to go. Moments later, Chtioui sprinted past Bazzana to take maximum points in the final intermediate sprint. Further back, Viviani surged ahead to take third, followed by his Sky teammate Ben Swift.

 

Chtioui tried to continue in a solo move but Bazzana made it back to the Tunisian before they hit the climb. Here he quickly fell off while Astana came to the fore to set the scene for the dramatic final battle.

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