World champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) produced a perfectly timed effort to win the 2019 UAE Tour’s first summit finish to Jebel Hafeet on stage three, beating race leader Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) to the line.
Valverde, who took his first win of the season and first in the rainbow jersey, bridged from a trailing group to a leading trio up the road in the last 900m of the 11km climb, beating Roglič, David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) and Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) in the final dash to the finish.
The Spaniard launched his decisive move with 250m to go to ensure he was first into the final left-hand bend before the line, and was able to hold off the race leader to take victory.
Roglič continues to hold the overall lead, no 14 seconds ahead of Valverde and 39 seconds over Frenchman Gaudu.
How it happened
Around 168km of the 179km distance of stage three of the UAE Tour looked relatively straightforward for the peloton, with an entirely flat course until the 11km of the gruelling Jebel Hafeet climb to deal with at the very end.
Of course a break would try their luck, with a similar composition to stage two’s breakers going up the road, with Igor Baev, Stepan Kuriyanov (both Gazprom-Rusvelo) and Charles Planet and Fabio Calabria (both Novo Nordisk) getting away.
They gained a maximum advantage of just over four minutes, but the peloton didn’t seem keen on letting them hang out there, and the gap began to steadily fall towards the halfway mark of the stage.
With around a two minute advantage, the escapees stabilised the gap as the bunch behind dropped the pace, but not long later with 80km to go the pace had increased again and the break was unceremoniously brought to heel.
Everything remained together towards the final climb, though the pace continued to drive upwards as the teams prepared to launch their GC riders into Jebel Hafeet with 11km to go.
The first two riders to get away on the climb with a strong pace were Patrick Bevin (CCC Team) and Diego Ulissi (UAE), who were joined by Robert Power (Sunweb) with just over 7km to go, but they only held 12 seconds advantage on the main group led by Jumbo-Visma and Primož Roglič.
They were brought back around a kilometre later thanks to the work of Jumbo-Visma’s Laurens De Plus, who’s ferocious pace saw Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) dropped among a host of others.
De Plus finally pulled over to release his leader Roglič with 4.2km to go, and he immediately jumped ahead, followed by Dan Martin (UAE) and David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ). Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) was able to bridge across to the three up front with 3.3km to go, as a group containing Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) and Michał Kwiatkowski (Sky) trailed behind.
Gaudu was the next to attack with 2.6km remaining with Roglič easily following, while Martin struggled to stay in touch.
Further behind, Valverde then attacked from 19 seconds down on the hardest section of the climb to bridge to Martin, but Roglič pushed the pace out front with Gaudu and Buchmann in tow.
The world champion then bided his time and waited until the final kilometre to launch from Martin’s wheel in pursuit of the leading trio.
Having caught them, the four then began to hesitate as each eyed the stage victory, but the experienced Valverde launched the definitive move with 250m to go, taking the final left hand bend in front of Roglič and Gaudu as Buchmann was dropped.
There was nothing Roglič could then do to get round Valverde before the line, with the 38-year-old able to celebrate his first victory in rainbow bands.
The UAE Tour continues on Wednesday with stage four, a 205km stage that finishes with a short and steep ascent to Hatta Dam.
UAE Tour 2019, stage three: Al Ain to Jebel Hafeet (179km)
1. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, in 4-44-50
2. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma
3. David Gaudu (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, all at same time
4. Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 4 seconds
5. Daniel Martin (Irl) UAE Team Emirates, at 12s
6. Davide Formolo (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 33s
7. Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin, st
8. James Knox (GBr) Deceuninck-Quick-Step, at 35s
9. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafedo
10 Jan Hirt (Cze) Astana, all same time
General classification after stage three
1. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, in 9-38-05
2. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, at 14 seconds
3. David Gaudu (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 31s
4. Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 39s
5. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team Sunweb, at 47s
6. Daniel Martin (Irl) UAE Team Emirates, at 54s
7. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb, at 57s
8. Víctor De La Parte (Esp) CCC Team, at 1-05
9. James Knox (GBr) Deceuninck-Quick-Step, at 1-07
10. Davide Formolo (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 1-08