Even if Mathieu van der Poel rules himself out of the running, stating on the record that he would be working for Jasper Philipsen and Alpecin-Fenix this UAE Tour, it doesn’t seem to be able to stop the Dutchman crossing the line first.
When echelons erupted almost from the flag drop of stage one, the WorldTour peloton wasting no time in getting back to racing after the delayed start to the season, Mathieu van der Poel of course found himself at the pointy end of proceedings, making the front group twice in the race.
“There was a lot of wind from the beginning and I was immediately in the first echelon,” Van der Poel explained after the finish, having beaten David Dekker (Jumbo-Visma) and Michael Mørkøv (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) in the reduced bunch sprint.
“I felt good but with the headwind we regrouped with the bunch, then after the intermediate sprint it split again and I was just able to catch the first group and it was a really hard race until the finish.”
Van der Poel knew that there were potentially faster finishers than him, as Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) and Elia Viviani (Cofidis) had also made the front group, but that if the race remained hard he would be the one to benefit when it came to the dash for the line.
“For sure the hard races are good for me for the sprint, but there were a few guys faster than me in there, but it was a really hard race, especially with the heat as well, it gave me the confidence I could win the sprint.
“In the sprint, I felt really good still and knew that I just had to start sprinting when I thought it was a good moment.”
It’s as easy as that for Van der Poel, who takes his first win of the 2021 road season and his first-ever outside of Europe. Only three weeks ago he was standing on the top step of the podium in Belgium, having won the Cyclocross World Championships for the third year in a row. While Van der Poel came to the UAE to transition back into road racing, maybe taking a break until gunning for the bigger prizes on offer this spring, he reckons his cyclocross form probably helped him today.
“I didn’t really expect this,” Van der Poel admitted of the short wait until he opened his 2021 road account. “I took some rest [after his Worlds victory] and then I trained for a week with the team and then I came here.
“I think this is cyclocross shape in the desert.”