Team Emirates’ Tadej Pogacar celebrates on the podium after winning the UAE Tour in Abu Dhabi on Saturday. Supplied Picture
Reigning Tour de France champion Tadej Pogacar won season-opening UAE Tour as Australian Caleb Ewan claimed Saturday’s seventh stage sprinting honours in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.
It was an eventful day with echelons that threatened to shake up the General Classification standings. Race leader Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) and runner-up Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers) were at the front throughout but the latter crashed after the peloton regrouped.
Yates rejoined the bunch despite his injuries and preserved his spot on the final podium. Joao Almeida (Deceuninck-Quick Step) also retained his third place in what will remain the first overall victory for Pogacar at the UAE Tour.
The 22-year-old Pogacar dominated the race to turn the tables on Yates, who had edged the Slovenian in last year’s coronavirus-curtailed edition of the World Tour event.
Last year, Yates was declared the winner after the UAE Tour was called off with two stages left following the virus outbreak.
Pogacar took command of the general classification in Monday’s time-trial, when the winner of stage one Mathieu van der Poel left the race after a staff member on his Alpecin-Fenix team tested positive for coronavirus, and then won Tuesday’s summit finish stage and carefully managed his lead in Thursday’s second summit finish.
“This is really big,” said Pogacar, who gave UAE Team Emirates team a second success in their home race, four years after it was won by Portugal’s Rui Costa.
“I feel super amazing. It’s one of the best races, for sure, with a really good organization, super good fans and support. I worked really hard for this, it’s really amazing, we’re happy and proud. I feel so comfortable here in the UAE. Every time I come here it’s like I’m home
“It’s hard to win this race, but everything is possible. We focused on this event and now we’ll take it step-by-step this season. The UAE Tour is great for the beginning [of the season] and I enjoy it. Every single victory will stay in my heart and is special to me,” the Slovenian added.
Speaking about his next races in Italy this year, he added: “My form is good. It depends on the day and the weather. But I think we’re well prepared. It’s going to be hard though. There are a lot of good fighters competing against us. Strade Bianche is difficult, but I enjoy racing there. It’s one of the best for me. After Tirreno, I’ll do the classics, and prepare for the Tour [de France] and the nationals probably. I’ve got quite a busy schedule this year,” he added.
In the closing stage, Team Ineos’ Yates fell 40 kilometres from the line, but climbed back on his bike to rejoin the peloton.
He suffered several cuts to his face but didn’t appear to have suffered major injuries as he continued to race after receiving medical assistance.
Up front, Lotto rider Ewan pounced and passed Sam Bennett in the shadow of the finish to deny the Irishman a third stage win this week.
“We came here to win a stage and there was only one more left to take,” said Ewan, who had claimed his first win of the season.
“It was a bit of a relief when I crossed the line. I haven’t been this far into the year without a win in my whole career.
“I am happy I got a win today. I think I am stronger now than I have ever been. My climbing should be better... my sprint is better. I have two grand tours in my legs now. I should be better than I was the previous year. This is also my first victory as a father of two. And seeing my family tonight will be really nice,” he added.
The four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome finished 47th overall for his new team Israel Start-Up Nation, 22 minutes adrift.
Froome is still recovering from multiple fractures sustained during his 2019 crash at the Criterium du Dauphine.
Froome said: “Hopefully things are coming together, but I definitely need more of these races behind me.”
The list features some of the greatest riders in the sport of cycling, with strong battles expected for the leader’s Red Jersey, sprinter’s Green Jersey and individual stage victories when the tour will get under way from Feb.21.
Boosting hopes of winning the title, the UAE Emirates star Tadej Pogacar claimed the victory atop Jebel Hafeet on Stage 3 - the Strata Stage - beating Ineos Grenadiers’s Adam in a two-man sprint while Colombian national champion Sergio Higuita
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