Tim Merlier declared winner of UAE Tour stage one in tight photo finish

The Soudal Quick-Step rider's team-mate Remco Evenepoel stretched out an early lead in the battle for GC

Tim Merlier wins UAE Tour stage one 2023
(Image credit: Getty)

Tim Merlier (Soudal Quick-Step) took his first WorldTour victory of the season on Monday, beating Caleb Ewan by a hair’s breadth on the first day of the UAE Tour

It was the latter who celebrated over the line in Al Mirfa, before the race jury reviewed the photo finish images and declared Merlier the victor. 

“In the end, it was really close,” the Soudal Quick-Step sprinter said after the race. “They waited, I think, for sure 15 minutes to decide to won, but I’m really proud I could take the victory here.

“Everyone was suffering in the end and the team did a great job to do a good lead-out,” he continued. “I need to say thank you to Remco [Evenepoel] also because he did a really great ride today. He was so strong. I think he will suffer a lot tomorrow.” 

Road world champion Evenepoel was one of the driving forces in a 13-rider move that wriggled off the front with 30km to go. The 23-year-old then rode hard on the front to stretch out over a minute’s lead on his GC rivals, ultimately finishing in eighth place on the stage. 

Mark Cavendish (Astana Qazaqstan) finished third, having cleverly manoeuvred himself on the right side of the day’s splits. 

How it happened

With the wind howling in the desert, it didn’t take long for chaos to reign over the first stage of this year's UAE Tour. A series of crashes followed shortly after the peloton rolled out from Al Dhafra Castle, but fortunately no riders were forced to abandon. 

Faced with a cruel cross-headwind, the 140-strong field splintered into echelons. Many of the pre-race favourites made it into the front group, but some saw their lead-out trains reduced. One of those was British national champion Cavendish, who was left with just Cees Bol (Astana Qazaqstan) for company. 

In the hunt for intermediate sprints points, Plapp faced competition from Nikias Arndt (Bahrain Victorious), but was able to take the advantage in the classification, placing second and first to earn himself a black jersey for Tuesday's second stage.

The wind then appeared to die down in the final 50km. With the gap dropping away between the 60-rider front group and the peloton, 13 riders attacked up the road, spearheaded by world champion Evenepoel. Sprinters who made the split included Cavendish, Ewan, Merlier, Olav Kooij (Jumbo Visma) and Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain Victorious). 

Entering the 18.5km finishing circuit in Al Mirfa, the leading pack held a lead of 40 seconds over the chasers, and looked set for a reduced bunch sprint. Bahrain Victorious, the best represented team with four riders, did the lion’s share of the work on the front. Evenepoel, too, gave himself up to pull, teasing out the seconds on his fellow GC contenders. 

The world champion steered the group under the flamme rouge, before ceding to his team-mate Merlier to lead through the final right hand bend. 

Down the finishing straight, the Belgian was the first to launch his sprint, but couldn't shake Ewan from his wheel. The two riders threw their bikes across the line, before the Australian punched the air, confident he had won. 

The race jury, however, saw it differently. After a prolonged review of the photo finish, Merlier was declared the winner, and awarded the race’s first red leader’s jersey. 

The race will now move to Abu Dhabi, where the riders will line up in a 17.3km team time trial around the city's Khalifa Port on Tuesday.


UAE Tour 2023, stage one: Al Dhafra Castle to Al Mirfa (151km)

1. Tim Merlier (Bel) Soudal Quick-Step, in 3-17-25
2. Caleb Ewan (Aus) Lotto Dstny
3. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Astana Qazaqstan
4. Olav Kooij (Ned) Jumbo-Visma
5. Nikias Arndt (Ger) Bahrain Victorious
6. Phil Bauhaus (Ger) Bahrain Victorious
7. Luke Plapp (Aus) Ineos Grenadiers
8. Remco Evenepoel (Bel) Soudal Quick-Step
9. Pello Bilbao (Esp) Bahrain Victorious
10. Cees Bol (Ned) Astana Qazaqstan, all at same time

General Classification after stage one

1. Tim Merlier (Bel) Soudal Quick-Step, in 3-17-25
2. Caleb Ewan (Aus) Lotto Dstny, at 4s
3. Luke Plapp (Aus) Ineos Grenadiers, at 5s
4. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Astana Qazaqstan, at 6s
5. Nikias Arndt (Ger) Bahrain Victorious, at 7s
6. Remco Evenepoel (Bel) Soudal Quick-Step
7. Pello Bilbao (Esp) Bahrain Victorious, both at 8s
8. Olav Kooij (Ned) Jumbo-Visma
9. Phil Bauhaus (Ger) Bahrain Victorious
10. Cees Bol (Ned) Astana Qazaqstan, all at 10s

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