The first mass sprint of the year took place during today’s stage 1 of the Dubai Tour. The victory went the way of Marcel Kittel (Quickstep-Floors) with Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) following his wheel home in 2nd. Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka had Mark Cavendish get his season off to a solid start by placing 3rd, despite crossing the line with a flat back wheel.
The opening 181km road stage of the Dubai Tour was poised to be the first real showdown of some of the big-name World Tour sprinters. Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka were motivated for a fast finale and this was evident from early on, as we sent riders to assist with chasing the 5-rider breakaway that formed in the first 10km.
The early escapees were given a leash of only 5-minutes as our African Team, along with some assistance from Quickstep-Floors and Team Sky, controlled the gap throughout the stage. With no real wind to speak of and a pan flat profile, the peloton was always in control of the race situation. We had our South African diesel engine, Jay Thomson doing the majority of the work for the peloton today.
With 20km to go, the gap had dropped to just under 1-minute and this was when all our riders committed to the head of the race. Thomson did one final turn just before the break was caught at 10km to go and setting our train into position. Nic Dougall, Bernhard Eisel, Scott Thwaites and Ryan Gibbons then took turns in stringing out the peloton up to the roundabout at 3km to go. A crash in the circle took out a Bahrain-Merida rider and disturbed the rhythm of the lead out slightly.
Quickstep-Floors emerged from the roundabout in the leading position but a monster pull from Thwaites brought our finishing trio back into position. Cavendish then had the space to take the wheel of Kittel, as the German’s team led under the 1km to go banner. Kittel’s acceleration could not be matched as he took the win. When Cavendish crossed the line 3rd but with no air in his rear wheel, it was clear that more was certainly possible today.
Mark Cavendish – Rider
I feel alright after today’s stage actually, a bit disappointed though because I punctured with 4km to go. There was obviously no time to get a wheel change but I wanted to get in on the time bonuses for a decent general classification position. Sprinting with a puncture is always going to be difficult against the best sprinters in the world so I’m quite happy in the end. Our team was fantastic today and in the final the plan was always to take Kittel’s wheel. If there was no Quickstep here we would lead out but his wheel was the best to be on.