Mathieu van der Poel won the first stage of the UAE Tour on Sunday in a sprint finish on a route that proved to be very challenging due to the crosswinds that manage to break the pack in several pieces.
Van der Poel edged ahead of fellow Dutchman David Dekker in the last 50 metres as cycling’s first major race of the season got under way in the Gulf state. Michael Morkov was third in the 176-kilometre stage from Al Dhafra to Al Mirfa. Reigning Tour de France champion Tadej Pogacar finished fifth in the stage.
“Today was very windy and a very hard race”, explained Van der Poel. “After the intermediate sprint a big group went away, and I was able to catch them. It was a really hard race…I know that I can finish it off in the sprint, but I didn’t expect it at all. It’s really nice to begin the road season with a win.”
“When the race is really hard, my sprint gets better and better,” van der Poel explained. “I knew that I had to be in a good position and start sprinting when I thought it was the right moment. [His teammate] Gianni Meersman did an amazing job to catch the guy who was away [Deceuninck-QuickStep’s Mattia Cattaneo, who tried a solo attack 6km from the finish], and I’m really happy to begin this way.”
The riders face a 13-kilometre time trial around Al-Hudayriyat Island in Monday’s second stage.