'The secret is waiting' - Ruben Guerreiro conquers 'wall' in desert at Saudi Tour with poker skills

The Portuguese rider, new to Movistar this year, played the game right to take victory and probably the general classification

Ruben Guerreiro
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Poker is a game of both luck and skill, one which forces its players to gamble on what their opponents have, while at the same time using their own knowledge to have a go, or sit back.

It is hardly the kind of thing that you would associate with cycling at its most anaerobic, as it was when stage four of the Saudi Tour headed up to the Skyviews of Harrat Uwayrid on Thursday afternoon. The man who won the card game, however, Ruben Guerreiro (Movistar) was keen to stress that it was just like poker.

"The secret is waiting," the Portuguese rider explained after the finish. "It's really nervous, it's full gas or really slow because of the wind, and you need to wait, because it's three hours until the climb and also during the climb I had good legs but I couldn't go first. 

"I had to wait for the UAE guys and for Santiago [Buitrago, of Bahrain-Victorious]. I was playing with them. I had to pay attention to Santiago because he's quick, and I had the legs to sprint at the finish."

"It was like poker, poker face, poker game," he continued. "All this week. I knew I was coming here with good legs, I trained really hard all winter. I prepared for this race. Why not take this victory, this stage. It was lucky that I had my teammates, my sports director and the staff. They kept me calm, and today I could do a good poker game."

Guerreiro mastered the final climb with his patience, able to follow the UAE duo of Felix Großchartner and Davide Formolo when it matter, and also keeping a close watch on Buitrago. 

He was the first to crest the climb, claiming a crucial three bonus seconds on the way, before pouncing once again in the final metres of the stage to outsprint Formolo and win the race's queen stage. However, he was not the first to attack, leaving it to the others.

"I knew if I went first in the climb I could explode," he said. "The plan was perfect. We never know here in Saudi Arabia."

"I think I felt the support of my teammates. Yvonne Ledanois, my director kept me calm, he was on the radio. I could not show that I was strong to the UAE guys and Santiago. Santiago also had a card, because he attacked to the bonus. It was good bike racing today, and it's lucky that I had the legs."

This is Guerreiro's first race with Movistar, after he moved from EF Education-EasyPost in the winter, a move which saw him break his contract early to make the switch. The Spanish team looked light on winning options last year, and with the retirement of Alejandro Valverde, need their new star to hit the ground running.

It is no coincidence that the team's two victories this year have come from new signings, with fresh energy coming into the squad. Barring a surprise on Friday's flat stage, Guerreiro will bring a third victory for the team, a first GC win for him, and possibly kick on into 2023.

The might be a challenge, something the Portuguese rider is half expecting: "It's bike racing, they can attack, but I also like to attack. I like to be aggressive, and I'm enjoying this race."

While the four riders at the front made it look easy, for those behind it was anything but. Cofidis' Axel Mariault was seen weaving across the road on the climb, while for others it was just too much.

One unexpected jersey at the front was that of Human Powered Health's
Embret Svestad-Bårdseng, with the 20-year-old Norwegian admitting later that he made a mistake in not going all in when the leading quartet did.

"It was just a wall, really," he said. "You don't get much draft, it's basically all out the whole way. You are on the limit the whole way. They went a bit early on the climb, and I was not sure if that was smart, but I waited too long. 

"I was thinking they would stop before the top and I could catch back on but they did not, and I was close to Grosschartner but he was too far away."

The climb to the Skyviews shook up the general classification, as was expected, and Guerreiro who held a royal flush in his hand.

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