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After the stage had been shorted by 15km due to the extreme heat, Guardini came off Bennati’s wheel in the bunch sprint to win stage 1 of the Abu Dhabi Tour and take the overall lead; Boonen and Bennati rounded out the top 3

Photo: Le Tour de Langkawi 2015








08.10.2015 @ 16:00 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Andrea Guardini (Astana) got his season back on track at the very end when he came out on top in the bunch sprint at the end of a shortened first stage of the Abu Dhabi Tour. After heat had forced the organizers to skip the 14.8km finishing circuit, the Italian positioned himself perfectly on Daniele Bennati’s (Tinkoff-Saxo) wheel and then rounded the veteran to take a comfortable print victory and the overall lead.


At the start of the season, it looked like Andrea Guardini was destined for a big year as he rode extremely well in the Arabic races. During the Dubai Tour and Tours of Qatar and Oman, he took no less than 9 top 10 results, with a stage win in Oman being the highlight. He went on to dominate the sprints in the Tour de Langkawi yet again as he left Malaysia with four stage wins in his pocket.


However, the success in Europe never materialized. He was set back by a crash in Scheldeprijs but still managed to win stages in the Tour de Picardie and the World Ports Classic. Nonetheless, those results were not enough to earn selection for any of the grand tours and the second half of the year has been a string of disappointments.


Now he has travelled to the Abu Dhabi Tour hoping to end the season in the way it started and apparently the Middle East is a happy hunting ground for him. Today he took a hugely comfortable victory in the bunch sprint at the end of the first stage of the new race.


Guardini had showed his intention early on as Astana had helped control the race in the opening phase but they had again disappeared when the peloton entered the final 20km. The extreme heat had prompted the organizers to skip the 14.8km finishing circuit and the brutal conditions were taking their toll as the peloton had a hard time catching lone escapee Rafaa Chtioui (Skydive) who had pressed out an advantage of 2.15 after launching a late stack.


The pace-setting was being left to the Lampre-Merida pair of Gang Xu and Mario Costa but they were constantly losing ground. The trend finally changed when Carlos Verona (Etixx-QuickStep) joined forces with Xu and when the Chinese faded, Manuele Mori came to the fore for the Italian team.


However, the gap was still not coming down and when Verona swung off with 15km to go, it was still 2.05. Diego Ulissi started to work with Mori and that made a difference as the gap was only 1.45 when Movistar hit the front with Javier Moreno.


Andrew Fenn (Sky) hit the front and too a massive turn for four kilometres. When he swung off with 10km to go, the gap was only a minute and the situation was again under control.


Leopold König (Sky), Stijn Vandenbergh (Etixx-QuickStep) and Costa traded pulls until Philipee Gilbert (BMC) launched a surprise attack. Together with a Bora rider and Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) he got a small gap but Juan Jose Lobato shut it down for Movistar.


The action had brought the gap down to 25 seconds but as no one wanted to commit to the chase, it went out to 40 seconds before Vandenbergh started to chase with 8km to go. He swung off 2km later when the Wiggins team took complete control.


Alejandro Valverde took a short turn for Movistar but it was two Wiggins riders riding on the front, keeping the gap around 30 seconds for several kilometres. When they disappeared with 3km to go, the gap was 15 seconds but no one was willing to do the lead-out yet.


It was BMC that finally kicked into action, with Marcus Burghardt and Manuel Quinziato both taking huge turns. They were passed by the Etixx-QuickStep train of Lukasz Winiwoski, Fabio Sabatini and Tom Boonen and they caught Chtioui just as they passed the flamme rouge.


A Bora rider briefly hit the front as did Valverde before Sabatini did the lead-out for Boonen. Daniele Bennati and Guardini were behind the Belgian when Peter Sagan suddenly moved up to do the lead-out for Bennati who latched onto his wheel.


Guardini was quick to react and followed the two Tinkoff-Saxo riders before he launched his sprint. Bennati tried to respond but was no match to his compatriot who took a clear win. Boonen managed to pass the Tinkoff-Saxo sprinter who had to settle for third.


With the win, Guardini takes the leader’s jersey with a four-second advantage over Boonen as we go into the second stage. It is a short flat route in the city of Abu Dhabi and should be another day for the sprinters.


A flat stage in the desert

The inaugural Abu Dhabi Tour kicked off with a 174km stage that brought the riders froom Qasr al Sarab to Madinat Zayed. Most of the stage was held on long, straight, flat roads in the desert, with only the first half being slightly undulating with a total amount of climbing of 1200m. In the finale, the riders did one lap of a 14.8km finishing circuit that was flat and non-technical.


With temperatures forecasted to reach 46 degrees, it was a scorching day in the desert when the riders arrived for the start of the first edition of the new race. Unfortunately, three riders were absent as Jacopo Guarnieri (Katusha) had fallen ill, Youcef Reguigui (MTN-Qhubeka) had failed to arrive due to visa problems and Tanner Putt (Unitedhealthcare) crashed hard yesterday.


Six riders get clear

There was no big stress at the start of the race and very early Paul Voss (Bora-Argon 18), Songezo Jim (MTN-Qhubeka), William Clarke (Drapac), Francisco Mancebo (Skydive Dubai), Alessandro Bazzana (Unitedhealthcare) and Michael Thomson (Wiggins) got clear to form what would be the break of the day. After an hour of racing, they had an advantage of 4.30.


Sky, Giant and Astana started to chase with Sebastian Henao, Albert Timmer and Tiralongo who had brought the gap down to 3 minutes when Clarke won the first intermediate sprint. The heat was clearly taking its toll though and the break started to split up much earlier than expected. Thomson was the first to drop off and when they entered the final 90km with an advantage of 2.30, Bazzana had also fallen back to the peloton.


Clarke is dropped

There was no stress in the peloton as Timmer quickly ended his work. Henao and Tiralongo continued their pace-setting and had brought the gap down to 1.45 when it came out that the final circuit had been skipped, meaning that only 67km remained.


Mancebo had gone into TT mode and didn’t get any help from his companions who were suffering on his wheel. Clarke was distanced with 63km to go when the gap had gone out to 2.10.


Voss wins the sprint

Clarke went straight through the field while Mancebo made Jim crack with 60km to go. Meanwhile, Tiralongo and Henao still set the pace in the peloton.


Voss beat Mancebo in the final intermediate sprint with 57km to go and then sat up to wait for the peloton. Mancebo continued alone to press the gap out to 2.40 with 47km to go.



The chase gets organized

The chase was not really organized as Henao and Tiralongo were still setting the pace. The lack of commitment meant that the gap had gone out to 3.15 with 42km to go when the pair disappeared and Ben Swift took a huge turn to bring the gap down to 2.45.


That’s when the chase got more organized as Lampre-Merida put Costa on the front while Timmer started to chase for Giant. Burghardt even took a few turns for BMC before Xu joined forces with Timmer and Costa.


Chtioui takes off

Their work had a big effect and the gap was down to just a minute with 35km to go. Two kilometres later it was just 30 seconds and this opened an opportunity for Chtioui to attack.


The Tunesian quickly bridged the gap to his teammate Mancebo whom he went straight past as the Spaniard fell back to the peloton. With 30km to go, the gap had gone out to 50 seconds and it was now just Xu and Costa riding on the front.


The Lampre-Merida pair were unable to match Chtioui who had increased his advantage to 1.30 with 26km to go. It had even gone out to 2.10 as they entered the final 20km to go where the chase got more organized, leading to the bunch sprint that was won by Guardini.



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