Rising British talent, Grand Tour contenders to watch, and the wide-open sprint field - here are the talking points from the inaugural edition
Primož Roglič continues to improve, and Jumbo-Visma have the resources to support him
This was a comprehensive overall victory for Primož Roglič, who looks poised for an even better year than 2018, in which he won two WorldTour stage races and finished fourth at the Tour de France.
He dominated the race from start to finish, claiming the overall leader’s red jersey after the opening team time trial stage.
After strengthening his hold with a runner-up place on the mountain-top finish of Jebel Hafeet, he gained a few more seconds with third place on the Hatta Dam, and sealed victory with a stage win on the day six Jebel Jais summit finish.
As brilliant as he was individually, Roglič benefited from exemplary support from his Jumbo-Visma teammates. It wasn’t just the team time trial victory that impressed, but also the way the likes of Tony Martin protected him on the flat, and, most of all, 23-year old Laurens De Plus’ revelatory rides on both mountain finishes.
All the signs indicate that Jumbo-Visma will be a force to be reckoned with this season, with a serious GC challenge at the Giro d’Italia led by Roglič on the horizon.
Alejandro Valverde flourishes in the rainbow stripes
Given the electrifying way he’s started the last couple of seasons, it was no surprise to see Alejandro Valverde bring his A-game to his first WorldTour appearance of the season, but the Movistar rider was unable to get the better of Primož Roglič in the race for the overall victory.
On the plus side, he’s halted the potential formation of any ‘curse of the rainbow jersey’ narratives by winning his first race as a world champion on Jebel Hafeet, with the kind of cannily paced climb that only a rider with two decades worth of experience could pull-off.
Alejandro Valverde wins stage three of the 2019 UAE Tour (Sunada)
After being dropped initially, Valverde bided his time before making his move, benefiting from some generous pace-setting from Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates), before bridging the gap to the leaders and winning a four-man sprint.
However, he did not quite look himself on stage six’s final mountain stage, failing to either attack Roglič at any point or contest the sprint for the stage win. Involvement in a crash earlier in the stage might explain his relative lethargy.
David Gaudu makes another leap
Ever since winning the Tour de l’Avenir as a teenager in 2016, David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) has shown intermittent flashes of his talent, but this was his most accomplished performance to date.
Competing in a world-class field, the 22-year old Frenchman more than held his own, making the selection on Jebel Hafeet to move into third overall, and holding on to seal his first ever WorldTour podium finish.
The result was not without controversy – he crossed the line well over a minute adrift on stage four after being held up in a late crash, but was given the same time as the leaders after it was judged that he’d been struck with a mechanical too.
Since the flurry of talent including the likes of his teammate Thibaut Pinot, Romain Bardet and Julian Alaphilippe broke through to the elite of the sport, the French production line of young riders had arguably slowed a little, but Gaudu looks like he could be the next big thing.
The emergence of another British talent
These days it never feels as though we have to wait long for another young British talent to emerge, and a standout performance at the UAE Tour suggests that James Knox (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) might be the latest to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Simon Yates.
James Knox moved into the top-10 overall at the 2019 UAE Tour (Photo: Yuzuru SUNADA)
The 23-year old climbed exceptionally in the two GC stages, rubbing shoulders with some of the world’s best to seal eighth overall.
The performance confirms the potential Knox showed at amateur level, during which time he finished second at Liege-Bastogne-Liege Espoirs and eighth at the Tour de l’Avenir.
Having learned the ropes as a first-year pro during 2018, Knox now looks ready to make a significant step forward in his career, and will be one to keep an eye on throughout the rest of the season.
Top sprinters share the spoils
No single sprinter managed to dominate the bunch sprints in the UAE, with four different riders each claiming a bunch finish win.
Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) and Elia Viviani (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) were the most consistent performers, and looked very evenly matched as the former edged out the latter on stage two, and vice verse on stage five.
Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) made up for his lack of a kick in the flat bunch finishes by storming his way to victory on the uphill finish at Hatta Dam, proving he has more strings to his bow than just straightforward bunch sprinting.
And Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) proved that he can mix it up with the very best on stage seven, when he produced a remarkable sprint to come past Gaviria’s wheel despite a seemingly perfect lead-out from Alexander Kristoff.
If the Irishman keeps sprinting like this, can Bora-Hansgrohe afford to not select him for either the Giro or the Tour as planned?