Under a palm tree in Al Mirfa, Lorena Wiebes sipped from a can of peach ice tea. She smiled as photographers huddled in front of her - a scene she got used to last season - and her new SD Worx team-mates filed through for high fives.
It might have come a day later than she’d hoped, but the European champion was back to winning ways.
The finale of the second day at the UAE Tour Women was similar to the first, but this time, the roles were reversed. Swinging right onto the finishing straight, Team DSM’s Charlotte Kool dashed for the line, only for her former team-mate to round her with 50m to go. The stage win, and the red leader's jersey, went to Wiebes.
“Today, my sprint felt much better,” she said after the race. “I had more power in my legs and I think I showed it.
“Our team did a great job to put me in the perfect position, and I’m happy to finish it off for them,” the sprinter continued. “It was a hard stage, crosswinds from the beginning, and we were strong today.”
At the start in Al Dhafra fort, race banners flapped violently in the wind. But neither the threat of echelons, nor the disappointment of the day before could dampen Wiebes's spirits. “Today’s a new chance,” she said, repeating the phrase again moments later. "We will go again for it."
When the splits happened, straight from the flag drop, the SD Worx sprinter found herself in the first of three packs on the road, together with a handful of her team-mates. The group ploughed through the desert dunes, shifting through turns as sand whipped across the asphalt beneath them.
Soon, however, the race came back together, courtesy of a headwind en route to the coast. Then came a final right-hand turn and the sprint to the line.
“We were early with the lead-out, but I think it was actually good,” Wiebes explained. “I felt I still had power in the final, and I was really focused on it. Maybe also a bit of extra motivation, because yesterday the team did such a great lead-out, and then of course I was disappointed not to finish it off.
“Today I did.”
To those onlooking, beating Kool seemed like an act of revenge. Wiebes stressed it wasn't. “I would not say revenge,” she said. “I think it was again a nice battle.”
Indeed, in her former team-mate, Wiebes appears to have met her match, or at least someone close to it. It may have only been two days, but already there are signs of a rivalry forming.
Wiebes believes so, too. “I think this year, we’ll have a lot of nice battles together,” she said. “I think that makes me also stronger again to really fight.”
For now, though, her attention is on the UAE Tour's final flat stage this Sunday. It might turn out to be a best of three, with a second victory, and bragging rights, up for grabs in Abu Dhabi.
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