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With a powerful surge on the 200m ramp to the finish at Hatta Dam, Lobato rode to an impressive victory on the queen stage of the Dubai Tour; Nizzolo finished second and took the overall lead ahead of a nail-biting final stage

Photo: Sirotti

DUBAI TOUR

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GIACOMO NIZZOLO

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JUAN JOSE LOBATO

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MOVISTAR TEAM

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SILVAN DILLIER

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TREK - SEGAFREDO

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05.02.2016 @ 13:08 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Juan Jose Lobato (Movistar) confirmed his status as one of the best uphill sprinters in the world when he turned out to be in a class of his own on the queen stage of the Dubai Tour. With a powerful surge from the bottom of the 200m, 20% ramp to the finish in Hatta Dam, he easily distanced some of the best puncheurs in the world and put two seconds into a surprisingly strong Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek) who took the overall lead. Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep) was a hugely surprising sixth and like Lobato is within shooting distance ahead of the final stage.

 

Last year Juan Jose Lobato emerged as one of the best uphill sprinters in the world when he powered to victory in the Stirling stage at the Tour Down Under and claimed two stage wins ahead of John Degenkolb in the Ruta del Sol. The only frustrating defeat came in the queen stage of the Dubai Tour where his usual poor positioning cost him the win as he had to settle for third.

 

That experience fired him up for today’s second edition of that stage which finished on the 200m ramp to Hatta Dam where 20% gradients made it a finale for the explosive puncheurs. However, it would always be tricky for the Spaniard to finally get the positioning right as he has always struggled in the hectic final phase of the races.

 

Supported by his Movistar team, Lobato finally managed to do things right and when he hit the ramp in fourth position, the outcome was never in doubt. He flew past pre-stage favourites Philippe Gilbert (BMC) and Fabian Cancellara (Trek) to claim a comfortable first win of his 2016 season.

 

The peloton had been split on the first of two late climbs with 10km to go where Astana had tried to blow the race to pieces, constantly sending riders up the road. Lieuwe Westra (Astana) crested the summit as the lone leader while the rest of the many attackers were brought back by Matteo Trentin who tried to control things for Etixx-QuickStep.

 

As they headed down the descent, disaster struck for defending champion Mark Cavendish who received a wheel from teammates Songezo Jim and Nic Dougall but rolled to the finish in the gruppetto while the rest of the peloton sped down the descent in pursuit of Westra. When they hit the next climb, Astana played their next card as they sent Laurens De Vreese across to Westra, with Ben Swift (Sky) joining the move.

 

The trio managed to build an advantage of 10 seconds but Trek had now organized a chase with Gregory Rast. The Swiss slowly reduced the gap while the sprinters moved back to the front end of the peloton after the climbs.

 

With 6km to go, the gap was less than 4 seconds and this prompted De Vreese to make an attack. Westra sat up immediately and with 5km to go, the break was caught.

 

Nelson Oliveira (Movistar) and Lukasz Wisniowski (Etixx-QuickStep) hit the front in the hard fight for position until Alex Dowsett took over for Movistar who led Jonathan Castroviejo and Lobato to the front. Trek and BMC moved up next to them with Jasper Stuyven and Amael Moinard and it was Stuyven who won the battle to take control with 2km to go.

 

Stuyven led his teammates Boy van Poppel, Cancellara and Giacomo Nizzolo to the 2km mark where the Dutchman took over. They were passed by Julien Vermote but he had lost his Etixx-QuickStep teammates and the same was the case for Tony Martin when he hit the front just before the flamme rouge.

 

Samuel Sanchez made a big acceleration with Gilbert on his wheel and those two riders hit the final ramp in the first positions, followed by Cancellara, Nizzolo and Lobato. Gilbert launched his sprint right from the bottom but was easily passed by Lobato who put daylight into the rest. While Gilbert and Cancellara faded, it was Nizzolo who moved clear to take second, just 2 seconds behind Lobato while Silvan Dillier (BMC) finished the stage impressively to take third 4 seconds behind. An impressive Marcel Kittel managed to reach the finish in sixth in the same time as Dillier.

 

Nizzolo’s bonus seconds from the first two stages mean that he leads the race with a 2-second advantage over Lobato while Kittel is six seconds behind in third. It will now all come down to the final stage which is a short, flat stage in the entre of Dubai. A big part of the stage takes place along the seafront and the roads will be completely flat all day before the riders are expected to battle it out in a bunch sprint in the business district. However, there will be important bonus seconds on offer in two intermediate sprints and at the finish and they can change the GC right until the end.

 

The queen stage

After two sprint stages, the terrain was significantly hilller when the riders tackled the queen stage which brought them over 172km from the traditional start at the Dubai International Marine Club to the spectacular finish at the top of the small 200m ramp to Hatta Dam. After a flat ride through the desert, the terrain got more undulating in the finale where the riders tackled two smaller climbs inside the final 20km before they headed to the final, steep climb that included sections of 20%.

 

It was a great, sunny day with very little wind when the riders rolled out through the neutral zone. One rider was absent as Michael Rogers (Tinkoff) has had new tests which have shown that his heat problems still don’t allow him to ride at this level.

 

Six riders get clear

The lack of wind meant that it was another calm start to the race and it didn’t take much time for the early break to be formed. Already after 10km of racing, the elastic had snapped when Chun Kai Feng (Lampre-Merida), Andrew Tennant (WIGGINS), Hayden McCormick (ONE), Essaid Abelouache (Al Nasr), Francisco Mancebo (Skydive Dubai) and David Lozano (Novo Nordisk) had already built an advantage of 1.03.

 

Sky quickly hit the front with Gianni Moscon and Andrew Fenn to keep the situation under the control and they never allowed the gap to go beyond the two-minute mark. The pair swapped turns on the front to keep the advantage between the 1- and 2-minute marks and it was still only 1.45 when they entered the final 110km.

 

Abelouache wins the sprint

The escapees entered the final 90km with an advantage of just 1.25 and prepared themselves to contest the first intermediate sprint. Here Abelouache turned out to be much faster than his companions as he held off McCormick and Fenn while Fenn and Moscon led the peloton across the line 1.52 later.

 

There was no stress in the peloton which had reduced the gap to 1.25 with 72km to go. At this point, more teams slowly started to gather near the front but it was still Moscon and Fenn setting a relatively slow pace.

 

More sprint points for Abelouache

With 61km to go, the riders contested the second intermediate sprint and it was Feng who tried to launch a long sprint. However, Abelouache again proved his speed as he beat the Taiwanese champion while McCormick rolled across the line in third. The peloton reached the sprint 1.45 later.

 

In the feed zone with 55km to go, the gap was only 1.20 but it continued to hover around the 1.30 mark while Fenn and Moscon set the pace. As the breakaway reacted to the faster pace, they managed to push the gap out and with 43km to go, it reached the two-minute mark for the first time.

 

The gap comes down

Fenn and Moscon upped the pace and reduced the gap to 1.20 just 8km later but the escapees had added another 10 second when they entered the final 30km. Five kilometres later the fight for position really intensified after what had been a leisurely day in the saddle and as Moscon and Fenn used their final bit of energy, the gap dropped to 55 seconds with 18km to go where Tennat was dropped on a small climb.

 

Trek moved up next to the Sky riders and brought Tennant back. Meanwhile, Feng was the next to get dropped from the break when Mancebo upped the pace on another small climb.

 

Astana play their first card

With 15km to go, the gap was still 45 seconds and it was now Sky, Trek, Lampre-Merida and WIGGINS lined out on the front of the peloton, with Stijn Devolder, Christian Knees and Jan Polanc setting the pace. Meanwhile, Feng was caught.

 

As they approached the first of the late climbs, Dmitriy Gruzdev launched the first Astana attack while the peloton exploded. Up the rod, Abelouache was dropped from the break and as Mancebo rode hard, McCormick and Lozano also had to surrender.

 

An attacking anarchy

As they hit the climb, it became anarchy. Westra attacked and there were several moves, with Branislau Samoilau (CCC), Amel Moinard, Manuel Senni (BMC), Luca Wackermann (Al Nasrr), Juraj Sagan (Tinkoff), Natnael Berhane (Dimension Data) and Soufiane Haddi (Skydive) all part of the action. However, it was Westra, Wackermann and Moinard who passed Mancebo and Gruzdev to reach the front before the Dutchman distanced his companions.

 

At the top of the climb, Westra was the only surviving attacker and Trentin had now taken control of the peloton. Moments later, they hit the next climb and the dramatic finale unfolded.

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