Tim Merlier got off the mark with his first WorldTour victory of the season at the UAE Tour. Caleb Ewan celebrated on the line but the finish photo showed that the pair were almost imperceptibly close on the finish line. It took some time for a winner to be decided, with both riders in the tent afterwards joking about the distance, or lack of distance between them today. Eventually, the race declared the win for Merlier, with maybe a pixel separating them on a zoomed-in version of the finish line photo.
The stage had been exciting enough, even without the close finish. Echelons from the opening kilometre saw the race split into groups and GC contenders the wrong sides of the gaps. The race did eventually come back together after plenty of chasing by the domestiques. However, with 30km to go, the race split once again with current world champion Remco Evenepoel the right side of the split again. He would finish 8th but the real value was in gaining almost a minute of most of his other GC rivals.
When it came down to the sprint, Merlier and Ewan played it perfectly. Despite having Cees Bol to lead him out, Mark Cavendish had to settle for 3rd place. Better positioning from Bol on the final corner may have helped the Brit be involved in the winning conversation but he was left with too much ground to cover up at the crucial moment. Olav Kooij was 4th for Jumbo-Visma.
“In the end, it was really close. They waited, I think, for sure 15 minutes to decide to won, but I’m really proud I could take the victory here.
“Everyone was suffering in the end and the team did a great job to do a good lead-out. I need to say thank you to Remco [Evenepoel] also because he did a really great ride today. He was so strong. I think he will suffer a lot tomorrow.”Tim Merlier
“I was squeezed a bit on the last corner, but still did my best in the sprint, finishing on the podium, and that’s not bad. Actually, I am happy I was there for the sprint, with my form and with the support of Cees [Bol] in the final. It’s good to try and get the ball rolling early in the year.”Mark Cavendish
UAE Tour Stage 1 result
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