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After a splendid Etixx-QuickStep lead-out, Kittel was in a class of his own in the bunch sprint on the first stage of the Dubai Tour; the German beat Cavendish and Nizzolo in the final dash to the line and is the first leader of the race

Photo: ANSA - PERI / Dal Zennaro

DECEUNINCK - QUICK-STEP

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DUBAI TOUR

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GIACOMO NIZZOLO

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MARCEL KITTEL

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MARK CAVENDISH

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03.02.2016 @ 12:21 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Marcel Kittel got his career as an Etixx-QuickStep rider off to the best possible start when he stomed to victory in his first race in his new colours on the first stage of the Dubai Tour. After a splendid lead-out from his new teammates, he started his sprint from the front and easily held off archrival Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) and Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek) to claim both the stage win and the leader’s jersey in the third edition of the race.

 

The 2015 season was a real disaster for Marcel Kittel who struggled with a combination of illness and lack of motivation throughout the year. After he won the People’s Choice Classic in his first outing, he only managed to pick one UCI win all year, the first stage of the Tour de Pologne, and he recorded an impressive number of DNFs in the few races that he did.

 

It all came to a sad conclusion as he fell out with his Giant-Alpecin team and the parties agreed to end the contract prematurely. Instead, he moved to Etixx-QuickStep and rumours have been that he has been extremely motivated to get back on track right from the start of 2016.

 

Those rumours were confirmed in the most impressive fashion as he looked like his former self when he stormed to victory in the first stage of the Dubai Tour, his first race of the year. After a splendid lead-out from his new teammates, no one even came close to passing the German who had plenty of time to celebrate a long-awaited victory.

 

The mostly flat stage was characterized by a tailwind which made the race less stressful and the final escapee, Diego Rubio (Al Nasr), was brought back just after the start of the first of the two laps of the 6.6km finishing circuit. That made things a lot calmer after a 6-rider break had briefly created some chaos and a very hectic chase.

 

Astana set the pace with Laurens De Vreese and Lieuwe Westra while the sprint teams were gathering behind but there was no big stress on the non-technical and very wide road in Fujeirah. The WIGGINS team came to the fore to set the pace with five riders, including Bradley Wiggins, and they remained in control for the duration of the first lap.

 

With 4km to go, Philippe Gilbert (BMC) tried to deny the sprinters the glory by launching a solo attack but Wiggins kept him firmly under control. Alex Dowsett took a turn for Movistar and it was Ruslan Tleubayev (Astana) who brought Gilbert back with 3.2km to go.

 

It was now a big fight for position between the big trains as Sky and Etixx-QuickStep were lined out on the front. Lukasz Wisniowski was first in line for the Belgians before Tony Martin took over.

 

The German was unable to respond when Trek powered through, with Fabian Cancellara taking a huge turn, followed by four of his teammates, with Giacomo Nizzolo at the back of the train. Marco Coledan was next and then it was left to Jasper Stuyven, Boy van Poppel and Nizzolo to finish it off.

 

Etixx-QuickStep turned out to have more power as Nikolas Maes sprinted past the Trek riders and delivered Fabio Sabatini and Kittel on the front. The Italian did the perfect lead-out and when the German started his sprint from the first position, no one even tried to pass him, with Nizzolo, Andrea Guardini (Astana) and Andrea Palini (Skydive) having fought hard for his wheel. Mark Cavendish had to start his sprint from further back and finished fast to claim second while Nizzolo took third.

 

There was a split in the finale which meant that many overall contenders lost a few seconds. Kittel is of course the first leader of the race with a four-second advantage over Cavendish. Kittel is also the first leader of the points competition while Soufiane Haddi (Skydive) takes the sprints jersey and white jersey for best young rider.

 

He will try to defend that position in tomorrow’s second stage which is another flat affair. The stage takes place in the city of Dubai and is completely flat before it all comes to an exciting conclusion on the spectacular Palm Jumeirah island where a big bunch sprint and windy conditions are expected.

 

A flat opener

For the first time ever, the Dubai Tour headed to the emirate of Fujairah when the riders tackled the 179km opening stage from Dubai to the city of Fujeirah. Most of the stage took place in the flat desert but there was a few smaller climbs in the final third before the riders tackled a long descent. In the end, they ended the race by doing two laps of a flat 6.6km circuit in Fujeirah.

 

The weather was excellent when the riders gathered for the start and all riders were present as they headed out for their neutral ride. Despite everything pointing to a sprint finish, it was a very fast start with numerous attacks that made the sprint teams work hard right from the beginning.

 

An aggressive start

ONE, WIGGINS and Manuele Boaro (Tinkoff) launched the first attack Gilbert and the Movistar pair of Jonathan Castroviejo and Marc Soler were among the many active riders in the beginning. The latter four were part of a strong 15-rider group that escaped in the opening phase but it was all back together at the 30km mark.

 

Moments later the elastic cnapped when Soler, Loic Vliegen (BMC), Souffiane Haddi (Skydive) and Martin Mortensen (ONE) escaped and the peloton was pleased to finally slow down. Moments later, Haddi beat Vliegen and Soler in the first intermediate sprint.

 

Six riders gather in the front

Charles Planet (Novo Nordisk) and Rubio took off in pursuit but had a hard time closing the gap.  The front group was 3 minutes ahead of the peloton at the 42km mark.

 

The junction between the two front group was made a little later while Daniel Teklehaimanot (Dimension Data) and Julien Vermote (Etixx-QuickStep) started to work in the peloton. They kept the gap around 3 minutes before they allowed it to go out to 3.55 at the start of the final 100km.

 

The chase gets organized

With a tailwind, there was no big stress in the peloton which enjoyed an easy ride while Teklehaimanot and Vermote kept the gap around 3.30. It was still 3.40 with 60km to go and was stable at 3.30 until the 45km mark.

 

Here Etixx-QuickStep decided to ask Iljo Keisse to contribute to the pace-setting and as Songezo Jim also came to the fore for Dimension Data, the chase took off in earnest. However, wrong information suddenly saw the gap go out to 3.45 with 40km to go and as the riders were unable to take back much time on the descent, the situation got very hectic.

 

The gap melts away

Keisse, Vermote, Jim and Teklehaimanot were riding full gas but the gap stabilized at 2.50 as they went down the descent. It was still 2.40 with 25km when Sky put Gianni Moscon on the front and when Natnael Berhane (Dimenion Data) and the Astana pair of Dmitriy Gruzdev and Daniil Fominykh also came to the fore with 20km to go, it had been reduced to 1.35.

 

The escapees realized that their efforts were doomed and started to focus on the final intermediate sprint at the first passage of the line. With 14km to go, Mortensen launched a first attack but as he was marked closely by Haddi, he never got clear.

 

A battle for points

The game of cat and mouse started and the gap was melting a way as a consequence of the slow pace. The early workers ended their job and it was Nic Dougall who patrolled the field while the escapees contested the sprint. Planet tried to do a long sprint but was passed by Haddi who claimed the sprints jersey by beating Rubio and Soler.

 

Moments later, De Vreese and Westra led the peloton across the line and all but Rubio sat up. The Spaniard stayed clear for a few hundred metres but it was all back together for the sprint with 10km to go.

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