Al Mirfa (Abu Dhabi), February 21: Stage 1 of the UAE Tour produced the closest sprint in the history of the race with Tim Merlier edging out Caleb Ewan by the tightest of margins to take control of the race leader’s Red Jersey.
Merlier (Soudal Quick-Step) and Ewan (Lotto Dstny) did brilliantly to work themselves into a 12-rider group who forged clear during the final hour of action and then went toe-to-toe along the seafront in Al Mirfa. So close were the duo on the finish line that it took the race jury around 15 minutes to decide the result of the stage, with Merlier ultimately crowned victorious.
The Presight.ai Stage started at Al Dhafra Castle and crosswinds in the desert made for a dramatic day in the saddle. The peloton split into several echelons almost as soon as the action commenced with 24 riders including Remco Evenepoel (Soudal Quick-Step), Sam Bennett (Bora – Hansgrohe) and Luke Plapp (Ineos Grenadiers) moving forward at the head of the race.
Plapp’s performances in the two intermediate sprints ensured he earned the Black Jersey, and it was shortly after the second intermediate sprint that a second group containing Mark Cavendish (Astana Qazaqstan Team), Dylan Groenewegen (Team Jayco Alula) and Ewan momentarily regained contact with the leaders.
That state of play didn’t last long though, with 12 riders breaking clear again and staying ahead to contest the victory, with Merlier and Ewan proving the fastest finishers. Cavendish meanwhile, took third place on the stage, with Plapp adding the White Jersey to the Black Jersey he’d secured earlier in the stage by also finishing in the front group.
Red Jersey, General Classification. Sponsor: International Holding Company
- Tim Merlier (Soudal Quick-Step)
Green Jersey, Points Classification. Sponsor: BeIT – Tim Merlier (Soudal Quick-Step)
White Jersey, Young Rider Classification. Sponsor: Nakheel – Luke Plapp (Ineos Grenadiers)
Black Jersey, Intermediate Sprint Classification. Sponsor: Experience Abu Dhabi – Luke Plapp (Ineos Grenadiers)
As Tim Merlier will wear the Red Jersey on Stage 2, the Green Jersey will be worn by Nikias Arndt (Bahrain – Victorious). Pello Bilbao (Bahrain – Victorious) will also wear the Black Jersey on behalf of Luke Plapp.
1 – Tim Merlier (Soudal Quick-Step)
2 – Caleb Ewan (Lotto Dstny) at 4″
3 – Luke Plapp (Ineos Grenadiers) at 5″
Stage winner, and Red and Green Jersey holder Tim Merlier said in the post-stage press conference: “I’m really happy with this win. I recently became a father and that gave me a lot of motivation. It was a hard race. When the race is hard, I’m one of the strongest in the end and I believe I can win. We did a good job as a team, and also for the General Classification. We were also racing for Remco [Evenepoel] today. He was the strongest. He brought us to the win. Last year I had to wait for Tirreno-Adriatico to get my first victory, now I already have two victories this season – one the road and one in cyclo-cross.”
Data collected by Velon’s devices on the riders’ bikes tells a detailed story of the stage. An infographic about Tim Merlier’s final sprint can be downloaded here.
Black and White Jersey holder Luke Plapp said in the post-stage press conference: “Everybody thought today would be a sprint stage but as soon as the flag dropped the race was on and we went full gas for 151km. When the front two groups came back together everyone was lulled into a false sense of security but QuickStep took it up on the circuit and split things up again. That was great for GC guys like me, Remco [Evenepoel] and Pello [Bilbao], and then right at the end we let the sprinters do their own thing.”