Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) won the opening stage of the 2017 Abu Dhabi Tour on Thursday, as sprint rivals Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) and Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott) were caught up in a late crash.
The Manxman powered ahead of André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) in the bunch finish at the end of the pan-flat stage through the Abu Dhabi desert to take his first victory of the season. Niccolo Bonifazio (Bahrain-Merida) came home for third.
“I can’t fault anyone in the team,” Cavendish said after the stage. “If I’d lost it would have been only my fault. It was the same finish as last year and I was only third then, with us having made some mistakes. We went through what we did wrong last year, tried to do the complete opposite and that’s what happened.”
Billed as the ‘clash of the sprinters’, fans were ultimately denied seeing the world’s top fastmen go truly head-to-head as Kittel and Ewan fell just as the race hit the final kilometre.
Several other team’s sprint trains were also disrupted due to the crash, with Team Sky’s Elia Viviani losing a couple of team-mates to the incident, including Welshman Owain Doull. It was Doull’s 2017 debut race after recovering from surgery to fix a burst appendix which saw him miss the Tour Down Under in January.
Alex Dowsett (Movistar) was another rider caught up in the crash.
Earlier, Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) was felled in separate crash with around 4km to go. A quick bike change with a team-mate was swiftly followed by the majority of the Trek team falling back to pace Contador back up to the bunch. Prior to the race, Contador had said he would be working for Bauke Mollema, but the team’s response to the incident signals that Contador is perhaps co-leader.
Before the chaotic finale, the day’s action had been led by an escape group of six riders, who were allowed a margin of five minutes after an hour’s racing. The peloton soon pegged that advantage back, and they were caught with around 17km to go.
Several of the sprinters’ teams jostled for position on the wide roads before the crashes disrupted their rhythm. Cavendish stayed cool in the melee, and jumped on Bonifazio’s wheel as the Italian opened up his sprint early.
As Bonifazio faded, Cavendish upped his pace leaving Greipel with work to do. By the line, Cavendish had opened up a good margin, enough to sit up and savour his first victory of the year.
Cavendish will go into stage two of the 2017 Abu Dhabi Tour in the overall race lead. The flat profile once again lends itself to a sprint finish in Abu Dhabi city. The newly-appointed WorldTour race concludes on Sunday, February 26.
Abu Dhabi Tour 2017, stage one: Madinat Zayed to Madinat Zayed, 188km
1. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Dimension Data, in 4-37-06
2. André Greipel (Ger) Lotto-Soudal
3. Niccolo Bonifazio (Ita) Bahrain-Merida
4. Simone Consonni (Ita) UAE Team Emirates
5. Elia Viviani (Ita) Team Sky
6. Roger Kluge (Ger) Orica-Scott
7. Alexander Porsev (Rus) Gazprom-Rusvelo
8. Matteo Pelucchi (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe
9. Nicola Ruffoni (Ita) Bardiani CSF
10. Eduard Grosu (Rom) Nippo-Vini Fantini, all same time
General classification after stage one
1. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Dimension Data
2. Andre Greipel (Ger) Lotto-Soudal, at 4 secs
3. Manuele Mori (Ita) UAE Team Emirates, at 4 secs
4. Niccolo Bonifazio (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, at 6 secs
5. Mirco Maestri (Ita) Bardiani-CSF, at 8 secs
6. Kazishige Kuboki (Jpn) Nippo-Vini Fantini, at 8 secs
7. Simone Consonni (Ita) UAE Team Emirates, at 10 secs
8. Elia Viviani (Ita) Team Sky, at 10 secs
9. Roger Kluge (Ger) Orica-Scott, at 10 secs
10. Alexander Porsev (Rus) Gazprom-Rusvelo, at 10 secs