Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) has started his 2022 season with an impressive win on the first mountain stage of the UAE Tour, beating Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers) and Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe) to victory on the climb to Jebel Jais.
With just 1km to go, more than 20 riders were in contention to win the race, but it was the 2021 Tour de France winner in the driving seat, with his UAE Team Emirates team-mates creating a lead-out train for him to benefit off the back of.
The Slovenian will now take the red leader's jersey into the fifth stage, just two seconds ahead of second-placed Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) on general classification. The Italian produced a spectacular performance to keep pace in the climb, showing he is more than just a time trial specialist.
HOW IT HAPPENED
While Stefan Bissegger (EF Education-EasyPost) entered the fourth stage of the UAE Tour wearing the red leader's jersey, Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) seemed the riders best placed in the GC to potentially open up a gap to the other contenders.
Starting on the east coast of the UAE at Fujairah Fort, stage four heads north to Jebel Jais in the first mountain challenge of the race. There is still an extended section of flat, but the final climb is a constant ascent lasting over 20km at a gradient averaging 5.5 per cent. The climb could entice one or two riders to attack aggressively, with big ring power required up the mountain.
At the drop of the startling flag, Luca Rastelli (Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè) and Jakob Egholm (Trek-Segafredo) attacked, eager to build up a gap against the moderate-riding peloton. After 20km the pair had put over five minutes between themselves and the rest of the riders, which they maintained until the final 20km when the peloton started to drag them back in towards the foot of the ascent to Jebel Jais.
Mark Cavendish (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) and Vadim Pronskiy (Astana Qasaqstan Team) crashed early on in the race, but fortunately the pair were able to escape any lasting damage or injuries and soon caught up to the back of the peloton. It seems Cavendish even caught up without assistance from a car, learning his lesson from the Tour of Oman where he was penalised on stage five of the race.
The ascent to Jebel Jais is a strategical climb where drafting is important, especially considering the weather conditions. Some of the fast-men were dropped early on, including Cavendish, Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Elia Viviani (Ineos Grenadiers). Stefan Bissegger and green jersey holder Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) managed to maintain the pace for plenty of the climb though, with their teammates providing much of the pacing for them to draft off of.
Mikkel Bjerg and George Bennett - both of UAE Team Emirates - did a successful job in stretching the peloton out, powering up the early parts of the climb to drop the riders unable to match the requisite pace and offer Tadej Pogačar or João Almeida the opportunity to attack.
Rafał Majka (UAE Team Emirates) quickened the pace up with 8km left, followed shortly by Pogačar to try and stretch the field even more. Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma) dropped off the back, but Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe) comfortably went with the Slovenian, who stopped his attack.
A flurry of attacks by a number of riders followed, but none managed to stick as the peloton comfortably drew them all back in.
Rein Taaramäe (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) dragged the group along to set up his teammate Jan Hirt for an attack, which Adam Yates comfortably kept with. Vlasov and Pogačar went with them too, along the steepest section of the climb at 1.5km to go.
Luke Plapp (Ineos Grenadiers) attacked with just 500m to go, but failed to power through the pain as Pogačar, Yates and Vlasov comfortably passed him.
The thrilling finale culminated with Pogačar outsprinting his GC rivals to cross the line first, though for a minute it didn't seem as if he would take the leader's jersey. Filippo Ganna seemed to finish inside what seemed like the top group, but a three-second gap was given between Vlasov in third and Ruben Guerreiro (EF Education-EasyPost) in fourth.
Consequently, Pogačar is in the lead of the GC, two seconds ahead of Ganna with three stages left in the UAE Tour.
UAE TOUR 2022, STAGE FOUR: FUJAIRAH FORT TO JEBEL JAIS (181KM)
1. Tadej Pogačar (Svn) UAE Team Emirates, in 4-49-24
2. Adam Yates (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers
3. Aleksandr Vlasov (Kaz) Bora-Hansgrohe
4. Ruben Guerreiro (Por) EF Education-EasyPost, at 3s
5. Damien Howson (Aus) BikeExchange Jayco
6. Romain Bardet (Fra) Team DSM
7. Jai Hindley (Aus) Bora-Hansgrohe
8. Geoffrey Bouchard (Fra) AG2R Citroën Team
9. Jan Hirt (Cze) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux
10. Pello Bilbao (Esp) Bahrain-Victorious
GENERAL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE FOUR
1. Tadej Pogačar (Svn) UAE Team Emirates, in 14-02-34
2. Filippo Ganna (Ita) Ineos Grenadiers, at 2s
3. Aleksandr Vlasov (Kaz) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 13s
4. Adam Yates (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at 15s
5. Neilson Powless (USA) EF Education-EasyPost, at 23s
6. João Almeida (Por) UAE-Team Emirates, at 28s
7. Pello Bilbao (Esp) Bahrain-Victorious, at 35s
8. Óscar Rodríguez (Esp) Movistar, at 38s
9. Ruben Guerreiro (Por) EF Education-EasyPost, at 40s
10. Geoffrey Bouchard (Fra) AG2R Citroën Team, at 41s
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