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After a big battle between the Sky and Etixx-QuickStep lead-out trains, Cavendish was given the perfect lead-out and narrowly held off a very fast-finishing Guardini to win the first stage of the Dubai Tour

Photo: Etixx - Quick-Step/Tim De Waele

ANDREA GUARDINI

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DUBAI TOUR

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ELIA VIVIANI

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MARK CAVENDISH

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SOUDAL - QUICK STEP

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04.02.2015 @ 13:01 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep) took his first ever victory at the Dubai Tour when he crossed the line as the first rider on stage 1 of the second edition of the four-day race. The Brit was given the perfect lead-out but was nearly beaten by a very fast-finishing Andrea Guardini (Astana) who just ran out of metres as he tried to pass the Etixx-QuickStep captain.

 

Last year Mark Cavendish left the inaugural Dubai Tour as a hugely frustrated rider after he had been beaten by Mark Cavendish in all the bunch sprints. Today he finally opened his account in the new prestigious event in the Middle East when he won the opening stage of the second edition of the race.

 

With the stage taking place in the city of Dubai and finishing with four laps of a flat, non-technical circuit along the seafront, the stage was always destined to finish in a bunch sprint. Etixx-QuickStep assumed their responsibility on the front of the peloton and together with Giant-Alpecin, they worked all day to keep a five-rider breakaway under control.

 

The break was caught with 20km to go and from there it was a huge battle for position. Movistar, Etixx-QuickStep, Sky and Lampre-Merida all played with the muscles but when the riders entered the final 5km, it was the Belgian team that had taken control.

 

With 3km to go, Tony Martin took over and he got some unexpected assistance from Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) who took a huge turn on the front. When the Italian swung off, Martin was back in control but the Etixx riders came under attack from the new Sky train which moved up alongside the Belgian train.

 

Martin swung off while Bernhard Eisel (Sky) sprinted against Fabio Sabatini (Etixx-QuickStep) as they went under the flamme rouge but the second half of the Sky train, Ben Swift and Elia Viviani, decided to move onto the wheel of Cavendish instead of following their teammates Eisel and Andrew Fenn. When the two Sky riders had taken their turns, it was Mark Renshaw who gave Cavendish the perfect lead-out.

 

Viviani was on Cavendish’s wheel and tried to anticipate the Brit who reacted quickly and kept the Italian behind him. Just as he seemed to take a convincing victory, however, a very fast Andrea Guardini came off Viviani’s wheel and was clearly riding faster than the Manxman. In the end, however, the Italian ran out of metres and had to settle for second in a photo finish while Viviani completed the podium.

 

Earlier in the race Ben Swift (Sky) had shown that he is ambitious about the overall as Sky made sure to catch the break before the final intermediate sprint. The Brit easily won the sprint and picked up three important bonus seconds.

 

With the win, Cavendish is of course the first leader of the race and he takes the blue leader’s jersey into tomorrow’s second stage. It briefly touches the desert but is almost completely flat and unless the wind picks up, it should be another controlled affair for the sprinters. However, the stage finishes in spectacular surroundings on the Jumierah Palm where positioning will be crucial as the wind can be very strong in the final 5km of the stage.

 

A flat opener

The 2nd Dubai Tour kicked off with a completely flat 145km stage that was held entirely in Dubai. After a big loop along the flat roads in the city, the riders returned to the seafront where they finished the race by doing four laps of an 8.2km finishing circuit whose lack of elevation differences meant that it was a perfect opportunity for a big bunch sprint.

 

The 128 riders took the start under beautiful sunny conditions in front of the Dubai International Marine Club and with only a light wind blowing from a westerly direction, they had perfect conditions for what was the season debut for a lot of them. With all set for a sprint finish, it was no surprise that the early break was established after just a few kilometres of racing.

 

The break is formed

At the 12km mark, Enrico Battaglin (Bardiani), Rafael Valls (Lampre-Merida), Vladimir Gusev (Skydive Dubai), Nicolas Lefrancois (Novo Nordisk) and Alessandro Bazzana (UnitedHealthCare) were already two minutes ahead but the peloton had no intention of letting the situation getting out of control. Unsurprisingly, it was Mark Cavendish’s Etixx-QuickStep team who started to chase and after the gap had reached a maximum of 2.30, they took control and kept it around 2 minutes for the first hour of racing.

 

The peloton briefly accelerated which meant that the gap came down to just 1.12 at the 45km mark but that prompted the bunch to slow down a bit. The gap went back up to 1.44 but when Bazzana won the first intermediate sprint after 51.9km of racing, it was again just 1.20.

 

The peloton in control

The break upped the pace and their effort had an effect as they managed to build the gap back up to 1.51. That was as much as they would get though as Giant-Alpecin had now joined Etixx-QuickStep on the front and the pair of Carlos Verona and Thierry Hupond worked well together to bring the gap down to around 1.10 where they kept it stable for a long time.

 

The atmosphere in the peloton was very relaxed and the pace was pretty slow. This allowed many riders to spin their legs easily and catch up with each other after a long winter.

 

The break ups the pace

The Etixx-QuickStep riders were always riding attentively near the front and as they entered the final 50km, more teams moved up, with Bardiani, Movistar and Lampre-Merida all making a prominent figure. At the same time, the escapees decided to give it their all and they briefly managed to extend their gap from 0.50 to 1.30.

 

Hupond and Verona did well to react to the higher pace and when they crossed the finish line for the first time, the gap had been reduced to just 1.12. The peloton was now riding a lot faster and most of the teams were starting to get organized.

 

Bonus seconds for Swift

With 23km to go, Sky made a huge acceleration with Ian Boswell, Salvatore Puccio and David Lopez stringing out the peloton. This quickly reduced the gap to less than 30 seconds which prompted Gusev to make an attack. Bazzana was glued to his wheel and later Valls also rejoined them. As they slowed down, Battaglin and Lefrancois also got back but moments later, they were caught by the Sky-led peloton.

 

As they approached the final intermediate sprint, Lampre-Merida, Sky, Movistar and Etixx-QuickStep rode next to each other on the front but they were surprised by an attack from Manuele Boaro (Tinkoff-Saxo). Sky reacted quickly, with Eisel and Swift bridging the gap, and Swift had no trouble beating Boaro and Eisel in the sprint to pick up three bonus seconds.

 

A battle for position

Boaro tried to continue his attack but he was quickly brought back as Movistar had now taken control with Jesus Herrada, Jonathan Castroviejo and Adriano Malori. The battle for position was fierce though and soon after Etixx, CCC and Lampre were riding alongside the Spanish team.

 

Alejandro Valverde took a turn on the front for Movistar before Kiel Reijnen took over for UnitedHealthcare. Tinkoff-Saxo had a brief stint on the front but they were passed by the Ag2r trio of Patrick Gretsch, Johan Vansummeren and Lloyd Mondory. With 5km to go, however, Etixx-QuickStep took control with Lukasz Wisniowski, Julien Vermote and Petr Vakoc and after they had held off a surge from Astana in the final turn, it was Martin who started the sprint by taking a huge turn with 3km to go.

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