Soudal Quick-Step, led by Remco Evenepoel, triumphed in stage two’s team time trial at the UAE Tour, beating EF Education-EasyPost by a single second.
The road world champion started and finished his team’s effort on the 17.3km course through Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa Port, averaging 56.773km/h to set a time of 18-17.
As a result, Evenepoel is now tied for the race lead with Ineos Grenadiers’ Luke Plapp, who holds the red leader’s jersey having placed better on Monday's opening stage.
Speaking after the race, the Belgian said: “We didn’t expect to go under the time of EF. We were mainly focused on the other GC guys, Plapp and [Pello] Bilbao, to do better than them.”
“To be able to win this stage is very incredible I think we executed our plan perfectly. We wanted to stay all together until we got out of the headwind, and then some guys really took our all their energy to do one last pull.
He continued: “To win it with one second is pretty crazy. I think it’s my first ever TTT victory and to do it in this race, back-to-back victories for our team, it’s a perfect start.”
The course for the team time trial was drawn out on wide, straight roads, save for two sharp u-turns. Race banners flapped in the breeze, but the wind was less troublesome than the first stage, where it tore the peloton into echelons.
Having lost 53 seconds to Evenepoel in the crosswinds the day before, Adam Yates and his UAE Team Emirates team-mates rolled down the start ramp with intent, setting an early best time of 18-33.
Soon though, the home team began to tumble down the standings. EF Education-EasyPost earned their place in the hot seat with a blistering ride, and couldn’t be toppled, despite Ineos Grenadiers’ best efforts falling two seconds short.
As the final few teams navigated through the port’s stacks of shipping containers, it looked like the American team might go unbeaten. Soudal Quick-Step clocked in 10 seconds down at the time check, and Bahrain Victorious, one of the pre-race favourites for the stage win, could only muster 8-21.
Then, as the Belgian team went under the flamme rouge, red jersey wearer Tim Merlier peeled off the front, unleashing Evenepoel to come through for a final turn. The former junior world time trial champion pulled hard, as he had done in the crosswinds on stage one, and towed his team-mates to the line to win by just one second.
The victory marked Soudal Quick-Step's second marginal win of the race, after Merlier was awarded the first stage in a tight photo finish.
The peloton will now face the first of two climbing tests on Wednesday, with a summit finish scheduled atop the 20km-long Jebel Jais.
UAE Tour 2023, stage two: Khalifa Port team time trial (17.3km)
1. Soudal Quick-Step, in 18-17
2. EF Education-EasyPost, at 1s
3. Ineos Grenadiers, at 3s
4. Bahrain Victorious, at 4s
5. Jayco AlUla, at 5s
6. Team DSM, at 10s
7. Bora-Hansgrohe, at 15s
8. UAE Team Emirates, at 16s
9. Astana Qazaqstan, at 17s
10. Trek-Segafredo, at 19s
General classification after stage two
1. Luke Plapp (Aus) Ineos Grenadiers, in 3-35-50
2. Remco Evenepoel (Bel) Soudal Quick-Step, at same time
3. Nikias Arndt (Ger) Bahrain Victorious, at 3s
4. Pello Bilbao (Esp) Bahrain Victorious, at 4s
5. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Astana Qazaqstan, at 15s
6. Cees Bol (Ned) Astana Qazaqstan, at 21s
7. Olav Kooij (Ned) Jumbo-Visma, at 23s
8. Bert van Lerberghe (Bel) Soudal Quick-Step, at 29s
9. Tim Merlier (Bel) Soudal Quick-Step, at 30s
10. Jarrad Drizners (Aus) Lotto Dstny, at 50s
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