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Photo: Sirotti




09.10.2015 @ 13:00 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Andrea Guardini proved that the Middle East is a happy hunting ground for him as he took a dominant sprint win on the brutally hot first stage. The Italian has  chance to make it two in a row as the second stage is even more suited to the fast Astana sprinter.


The course

After a day of riding in the desert, it is time for the organizers to show off the main city. While stage 1 had the wind, a bit of climbing and a longer distance to challenge the riders, their won’t be many difficulties in the second stage which is all about showing the capital and giving the sprinters another chance to go for glory.


The stage brings the riders over 129km from the Yas Marina Circuit in the city of Abu Dhabi to Yas Mall just metres from the site of the start. It is a flat stage across the city which heads from the start towards the southern part of the city along wide and mostly straight roads. After the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and the Exhibition Hall, the peloton turns back on itself, returning to Yas Island where they will contest an intermediate sprint, then follows the Corniche until the Emirates Palace. There the riders will face a U-turn, riding again alongside the Corniche until Yas Island, where the finish line is positioned next to the Yas Mall.


The finale is not technical as the riders will follow a wide road. With 2.2km to go, they will take a sweeping left-hand turn and then the wide road turns slightly to the right until the riders take the final sweeping left-hand turn with 350m to go. There won’t be much need to brake though, meaning that it should be a very fast finale.



The weather

Today’s stage fully lived up to the worst predictions as it was a brutally hot day in the desert. There will be no respite on Friday as stage 2 is forecasted to take place under a baking sun. The maximum temperature in Abu Dhabi will be a brutal 38 degrees.


It will be slightly windier than it was today as a moderate wind will be blowing from a northwesterly direction. This means that the riders will mainly have a crosswind in the first part of the race and then turn into a headwind section. There will be more crosswind as the riders get to Emirates Palace and turn around and then it will be a tailwind going back to Yas Mall where it will be a tailwind sprint.


The favourites

Andrea Guardini looked like he was destined for a great season when he finished in the top 10 nine times in the three Middle East races at the start of the year. Since then, it has not gone to plan but apparently the fast Italian likes to ride in the Arabic heat as he was clearly the fastest in today’s bunch sprint.


His win is no big surprise. Already yesterday we had pointed out that he is perfectly suited to these races. Even though he has improved his resistance massively, he is still a pure sprinter who needs very easy courses to excel. However, at the end of a completely flat race, he is one of the fastest riders in the world and it is definitely no coincidence that he has often been among the best in the final stage of the Tour of Qatar which is one of the best sprints for a pure sprinter all year.


Today Guardini really got what he was looking for as the combination of a headwind and extreme heat meant the riders had an average speed of only 33km/h. This made it a very easy day for those who were not too affected by the heat and Guardini has often proved that he handles hot conditions well. Despite having two of the biggest favourites for the overall, Astana even showed their confidence in their sprinter by having Paolo Tiralongo riding on the front for most of the day.


While Guardini shone, many of the star sprinters suffered. Elia Viviani and Sky were never really in contention and Peter Sagan decided to play a domestique role. Sacha Modolo failed to pay back Lampre-Merida for their huge work and could not even make it into the top 10 while Luka Mezgec could only manage 10th.


Guardini now has a big chance to make it two in a row as tomorrow’s stage suits him even better. The course is shorter and the terrain is completely flat, making it the perfect stomping ground for Guardini. Furthermore, it will be a high-speed tailwind sprint on a wide road which means that it is all about speed and less about positioning. Guardini could hardly have designed a better sprint himself.


The only real danger is the wind but it is unlikely to play much of a role. Today there was never any kind of risk that things would split and tomorrow the riders will be riding in the city where the roads are less exposed. There could be a bit of nervousness around the final U-turn as the riders will have a crosswind coming from the sea. This means that we should see the teams move to the front and the pace increase but we will be very surprised if the group splits.


Today the break was established right from the start and we don’t expect it to be any different tomorrow. The heat means that most want to stay safe in the bunch and many riders just want to save themselves for the queen stage. At the same time, everybody knows that a sprint is the likely outcome so there is really no need to ride aggressively.


When the break has been formed, it will be interesting to see which teams will do the early work. Today Astana and Sky did the hard yards in the early part of the stage and it was Etixx-QuickStep and Lampre-Merida who upped the pace in the finale. However, they nearly missed out on catching Chtioui as the smalle six-rider teams make it hard to use too many riders.


At the same time, many teams will be keen to save energy for the queen stage and we are unlikely to see Sky do the same amount of work as they did today. Of course Astana again have to ride on the front but their main goal still is to win the race so they need to save Tiralongo a bit for Saturday. With Sagan being out of form, Tinkoff-Saxo won’t do much work and after Modolo’s poor performance today, Lampre-Merida are unlikely to spend the same amount of energy as they did today.


The main ally for Astana will probably by Etixx-QuickStep. Boonen was not too far off the mark today and their main goal is to win one of the sprints stages. As almost all teams have a fast finisher, there should be enough firepower in the end to bring it back together so it should come down to another bunch sprint.


Today’s sprint was a hugely confusing one and it was Etixx-QuickStep who seemed to have done everything right until Sagan threw a spanner in their works by moving ahead to lead Bennati out. The small teams mean that the lead-out can’t surge ahead too early and this made it a bit of a waiting game.


As said, tomorrow’s stage should be a bit different as it is more about speed and less about positioning. This means that it is a stage for the really fast guys and when it comes to pure speed, two Italians clearly stand out as the fastest: Guardini and Viviani.


Today things didn’t work for Elia Viviani as he could only manage seventh. He was never really in contention as the Sky lead-out failed completely. Andrew Fenn had to take a huge turn earlier in the race to bring Chtioui back and this left him with just Ben Swift for the lead-out. They messed it up and came away empty-handed.


Tomorrow the team is unlikely to do the same amount of work and so they should have both Fenn and Swift fresh at the finish. On paper they have the best train and the trio worked extremely well in the Tour of Britain where Viviani won three stages. Furthermore, the Italian is in great condition as he proved at the Worlds so there is a solid chance that he will do much better tomorrow. When it comes to pure speed, Viviani and Guardini are pretty equally matched but as the Sky captain can count on the best team, Viviani is our favourite to win the stage.


His biggest rival is likely to be Andrea Guardini. As said, the Italian is tailor-made for this kind of stage. In the past, his big problem has been his poor positioning skills but he has improved a lot. That was evident in today’s stage where he did everything perfectly to jump onto Bennati’s wheel and then launch his impressive acceleration to take a comfortable win.


Guardini’s big problem is that he only has Lutsenko for the lead-out and he is no real sprinter. Guardini has to do most of it alone but today he proved that he has the skills to do so. Tomorrow’s wide road and tailwind should make it easier for him to sprint even if he is slightly out of position so Viviani has to be at the top of his game to beat the Astana captain.


Today Etixx-QuickStep did the best lead-out with Lukasz Wisniowski and Fabio Sabatini and if it hadn’t been for Sagan, Tom Boonen would have been in the perfect position for the sprint. However, the Belgian team proved that they have the firepower to put their in-form Belgian into position and Boonen proved that he has the speed to challenge the best. He likes tomorrow’s power sprint and is clearly motivated to do well. He usually doesn’t have the speed to beat Viviani and Guardini but if Etixx-QuickStep can nail the lead-out he could still be fast enough to win.


Like always Juan Jose Lobato was never really in a position to sprint as he again proved his disastrous positioning skills. Instead, Jose Joaquin Rojas was the first Movistar rider across the line. However, tomorrow’s wide finishing straight makes positioning far less important and this means that it should be more about pure speed. Lobato has often proved that he is extremely fast so he should be able to do much better in tomorrow’s stage. As he can rely on a better lead-out than usual – Rojas and Valverde are both fast – it may be time for Lobato to finally return to his winning ways.


Poor positioning meant that Sacha Modolo never got the chance to sprint in today’s stage and he rolled across the line in 72nd. However, he will be eager to make amends in tomorrow’s stage. This kind of high-speed sprint is not really one for him but he should still be one of the fastest in this field. With Davied Cimolai at his side, he has one of the best lead-out men so he should be able to do well.


Theo Bos was one of the sprinters that never got the chance to sprint in today’s stage as he was never in a good position. He should have a much better chance tomorrow where the finishing straight is much wider and it is more about speed. In the past, the Dutchman would have been one of the big favourites for this kind of stage but he has had an injury-marred season and is only slowly getting back into form. However, he definitely has the speed to do well here.


Today Sagan decided to work for Daniele Bennati and even though the riders will only make a decision during the stage, we expect it to be the same tomorrow. The Italian is usually not fast enough to win this kind of high-speed sprint but today Sagan proved how valuable he is as a lead-out man. This could make the difference for Bennati who has proved to be in great condition.


Today things didn’t work for Luka Mezgec. Kittel did a great work for the Slovenian but he was boxed in and had to settle for 10th. Tomorrow’s sprint is not really one for a versatile rider like Mezgec but he should still be one of the fastest riders in the field. If Kittel can time things a bit better, he may be able to position the Slovenian a bit better and by winning stages in Beijing and the Giro he has proved that he can win this kind of fast sprints.


We won’t rule Peter Sagan completely out. The Slovakian has admitted to be far from his best condition and he doesn’t like the heat either. However, he should be getting better as the race goes on and tomorrow he may decide to give it a shot. This kind of high-speed sprint is really not for him but as he has one of the best lead-out trains, it won’t be impossible to win.


Another interesting joker is Marcel Kittel. The German actually looked surprisingly strong in today’s stage and for once he was able to play a role in the finale. He had actually ruled out doing any sprints in this race but if he has gained confidence from today’s performance, he may decide to give it a go. The high-speed sprint is tailor-made for him and when it comes to speed and power, no one is able to match the German.


Finally, we will point to the trio of Andrea Palini, Brenton Jones and John Murphy. Today the former confirmed the great signs he had shown in Dubai as he sprinted to fourth and he has proved that he can position himself perfectly in these high-calibre sprints. Murphy and Jones both have great teams to support them and should be better suited to tomorrow’s high-speed sprint after failing to make it into the top 5 today.


CyclingQuotes’ stage winner pick: Elia Viviani

Other winner candidates: Andrea Guardini, Tom Boonen

Outsiders: Juan Jose Lobato, Sacha Modolo, Theo Bos, Daniele Bennati, Luka Mezgec

Jokers: Peter Sagan, Marcel Kittel, Andrea Palini, Brenton Jones, John Murphy



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