Mathieu van der Poel victorious in the crosswinds of stage one at the UAE Tour 2021
The Dutchman emerges with the win on the opening day of the 2021 WorldTour calendar
Mathieu van der Poel didn't wait long to switch his winning ways from the muddy fields of cyclocross to the hot tarmac of the road, taking the first stage of the 2021 UAE Tour in a reduced bunch sprint.
Crosswinds tore the race apart from the off in the Middle East, with Van der Poel beating the likes of Elia Viviani (Cofidis) and David Dekker (Jumbo-Visma) to the line, to also take the GC lead.
Dekker, son of Erik, finished second in his first-ever WorldTour race, while Trek-Segafredo's Emils Liepins took third. Michael Mørkøv settled for fourth, Deceuninck - Quick-Step's sprinter Sam Bennett having been lost in the crosswinds, while Viviani took fifth ahead of Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates).
Pogačar and defending champion Adam Yates were the main GC beneficiaries of the crosswind splits, while João Almeida (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) also finished in the front group, having taken six bonus seconds at intermediate sprints en route to the finish.
Tomorrow's 13km individual time trial should see the contenders for the overall set out their stalls, before the uphill Jebel Hafeet finish of stage three.
How it happened
After a longer than usual wait for WorldTour action this year, the reward for cycling's collective patience was a smattering of echelons almost as soon as the flag dropped.
Ineos Grenadiers and Adam Yates had taken the initiative, with a larger chase group behind them getting back on terms, but another group containing Sergio Higuita (EF Education-Nippo), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) were also trying to claw their way back.
Deceuninck - Quick-Step and Bahrain Victorious leant their muscle on the front to try and hurt the legs of their rivals chasing behind, but a change in wind-direction allowed the majority back in after a breathless start.
The bunch was cruising along at 55km/h through as they entered a town, but back into the desert the desire for further attacks wasn't immediate until Deceuninck - Quick-Step went to the front and the race split once more.
Four echelons formed on the road, Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) one of the riders caught out, but Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) and Elia Viviani (Cofidis) making the front group, soon a minute ahead of the chasers behind.
The 26 riders in the front echelon kept the pace on, extending their advantage by another 30 seconds. Deceuninck - Quick-Step helped João Almeida to the three bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint, with their sprinter Sam Bennett lost in the group behind.
The chase group then split, as Bora-Hansgrohe upped the pace to try and close the gap for Pascal Ackermann to the front group. Up ahead Almeida then took another three bonus seconds ahead of team-mate Mattia Cattaneo and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix).
Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers) were both in the front group and gaining time on rivals in the group behind them, now more than two minutes down, while Chris Froome (Israel Start-Up Nation) was even further back on the road.
With 20km to go and the front group 3-30 ahead, they would be able to contest the win amongst themselves. The group took a breather over the next 10km before Fausto Masnada (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) was the first to hit out with 7km remaining, the Belgian team having a number of cards to play thanks to a number of their squad being present in the front group.
EF's Neilson Powless bridged to Masnada, as well as another couple of riders, before they were brought to heel, before Viviani also accelerated. Mattia Cattaneo (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) was the next to make a move stick, however, going off the front as Pogačar led the group in pursuit.
The Italian had 15 seconds with 3km to go, as UAE Team Emirates and Alpecin-Fenix worked to close him down. They were all back together under the flamme rouge as Van der Poel sat on Viviani's wheel, waiting to strike, as Deceuninck - Quick-Step had the numbers up front, Shane Archbold hitting out.
David Dekker and Michael Mørkøv came closest, but no-one was going to match Van der Poel's sprint, as he continued his winning ways in his first road race back after defending his cyclocross rainbow jersey.
UAE Tour 2021, stage one: Al Dhafra Castle to Al Mirfa (176km)
1. Mathieu van der Poel (Ned) Alpecin-Fenix, in 3-45-47
2. David Dekker (Ned) Jumbo-Visma
3. Michael Mørkøv (Den) Deceuninck - Quick-Step
4. Emils Liepins (Lat) Trek-Segafredo
5. Elia Viviani (Ita) Cofidis
6. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates
7. Anthony Roux (Fra) Groupama-FDJ
8. Chris Harper (Aus) Jumbo-Visma
9. João Almeida (Por) Deceuninck - Quick-Step
10. Fausto Masnada (Ita) Deceuninck - Quick-Step, all at same time
General classification after stage one
1. Mathieu van der Poel (Ned) Alpecin-Fenix, in 3-45-37
2. David Dekker (Ned) Jumbo-Visma, at four seconds
3. Michael Mørkøv (Den) Deceuninck - Quick-Step, at 6s
4. João Almeida (Por) Deceuninck - Quick-Step, at 7s
5. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, at 8s
6. Emils Liepins (Lat) Trek-Segafredo, at 10s
7. Elia Viviani (Ita) Cofidis
8. Anthony Roux (Fra) Groupama-FDJ
9. Chris Harper (Aus) Jumbo-Visma
10. Fausto Masnada (Ita) Deceuninck - Quick-Step, all at same time
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Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races.
Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab and I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).
I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.
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