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Launching a long sprint on the steep ramp to the finish in Hatta, Degenkolb put two seconds into Valverde and Lobato to win the queen stage; Cavendish limited his losses but is now second, 4 seconds behind the German

Photo: Sirotti










06.02.2015 @ 12:57 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) proved that he is one of the best uphill sprinters in the world when he took a hugely dominant win in the Dubai Tour queen stage. Having been brought perfectly into position by his teammates, he sprinted up the 200m ramp to the finish to put 2 seconds into a 6-rider group that was led home by Alejandro Valverde and Juan Jose Lobato (both Movistar) and even though Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep) did well to limit his losses, the German takes the lead with a four-second advantage over the Brit.


Going into the Dubai Tour, much was expected from John Degenkolb but after he decided to work for Luka Mezgec in the first sprint stage and performed poorly in the second, much of the hype around the German disappeared. Today, however, he proved that he is in great condition right from the start of the season when he took an impressive win in the queen stage of the four-day race.


The stage ended with a 200m ramp up the Hatta Dam who reached maximum gradients of 20%, meaning that it was expected to suit a combination of puncheurs and powerful sprinters. Known as one of the best riders in the world for this kind of finishes, Degenkolb got full support from his Giant-Alpecin team which really played with the muscles in the finale.


At a time when everyone was fighting hard for position, the German team still had two riders to lead Degenkolb out when they passed the flamme rouge where it was Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) who set the pace, working for his teammate Alexey Lutsenko. They reacted quickly when Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) launched a surprise attack and then passed the Italian to start their lead-out.


Degenkolb had to fight with Lutsenko for his position at the back of the train and when they hit the crucial turn at the bottom of the ramp, it was the Kazakh who hit the front to launch a long sprint. He got a small gap but after suffering what looked like a mechanical, he drifted backwards and instead the big German took over.


Launching a powerful sprint, Degenkolb immediately got a big gap over his rivals who were led by a fading Geraint Thomas (Sky). While the Welshman drifted backwards, Alejandro Valverde launched his sprint but he didn’t get any closer to Degenkolb who crossed the line with a clear 2-second advantage over Valverde.


Valverde’s teammate Juan Jose Lobato probably did the fastest sprint of everybody but like so often before, the Spaniard had been poorly positioned and he could only manage third. Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida), Marco Canola (UnitedHealthCare), Philippe Gilbert (BMC) and Grega Bole (CCC) followed in a group that lost two seconds to Degenkolb where Brent Bookwalter (BMC) was 7 seconds behind in 8th.


Race leader Mark Cavendish had been distanced on the second climb of the day but his Etixx-QuickStep team did a fantastic job to team time trial their way back to the peloton on the long flat run to the final climb. He started the ramp in a good position but drifted backwards, losing 10 seconds to Degenkolb. Hence, he dropped to second in the overall standings, with Degenkolb taking the lead with a 4-second advantage over the Brit.


With bonus seconds on offer in the final stage, all is still to play for in the second edition of Dubai Tour which will come down to a thrilling finale. The final day sees the riders tackle a short, flat stage in Dubai which is set to finish with a big sprint in front of the Burj Khalifa skyscraper where Degenkolb and Cavendish are set to battle it out for the overall win.


The queen stage

After two days for the sprinters, it was time for a change of scenery in the Dubai Tour when the riders tackled the queen stage which brought them over 205km from Dubai to the Hatta Dam. After a flat run into the desert, the riders reached the Hajar Mountains where they went up four smaller climbs before they headed along flat roads to the Hatta Dam. The race finished at the top of a 200m ramp which had a very steep 20% section at the top.


The 128 riders headed out on the queen stage under beatutiful sunshine and with a solid tailwind to assist them on their way into the desert. After two relatively calm starts to the first two stages, they were eager to race and the start was very fast, with lots of attack being launched in the early part of the race.


The break is formed

For a long time, nothing stuck and the peloton continued to travel along at a brisk pace. The first rider to get a significant gap was Mohammed Al Murawwi (Skydive Dubai) who attacked at the 25km mark but he was brought back too.


However, the local rider refused to give up and when 5 riders escaped after 27km of racing, he was again part of the action. He was joined by his Skydive teammate Vladimir Gusev, Luka Pibernik (Lampre-Merida), Alessandro Bazzana (Unitedhealthcare) and Martijn Verschoor (Novo Nordisk) and those five riders were allowed to go clear.


Etixx-QuickStep take control

While the peloton recovered from the fast start, the gap started to grow and it reached 1.50 already after 31km of racing. At the 44km mark, it had reached 5.18 and the riders continued to ride fast, covering more than 46km in the first hour.


Etixx-QuickStep started to control the situation, putting young Petr Vakoc on the front but he allowed the gap to grow. When Bazzana won the first intermediate sprint, it had reached 6 minutes and for a moment, the gap stabilized around that mark.


Lastras starts to work

However, Etixx-QuickStep again slowed down and with 120km to go, the gap was almost 9.30. This was when Movistar decided that it was time to initiate a chase and they put Pablo Lastras on the front.


Lastras and Vakoc have worked well together and with 105km to go, they had brought the gap down to 8.00. However, Etixx-QuickStep had different plans and when they had exited the feed zone, they tried to catch the peloton by surprise.


Crosswind attack

With Julien Vermote and Tony Martin as the driving forces, they tried to split things in the crosswinds. However, it was impossible to create a selection and they quickly stopped their acceleration.


The attack had created some nervousness in the bunch and now all team wanted to be near the front. However, things quickly calmed down as Lastras and Vakoc went back to work but the gap had come down to 6.25.


Movistar up the pace

The pair were riding really fast as they hit the first small climbs which caused the first riders to get dropped from the peloton. With 70km to go, the gap was only 3.30 and the big teams were starting to position themselves near the front.


Vakoc stopped his work and instead Movistar put Adriano Malori on the front, with the Italian trading pulls with Lastras. They kept the gap stable at around 3.30 as they approached the first climb of the day.


The front group splits up

Bazzana easily beat Verschoor and Pibernik in the final intermediate sprint at the bottom and briefly split the group. Verschoor, Pibernik and Gusev both rejoined him but Al Murawwi never got back and he was picked up by the peloton that was led by Malori and Jonathan Castroviejo as they went up the first climb.


Gusev set a hard pace and this was too much for Verschoor who fell off the pace. Meanwhile, the peloton was gradually being whittled down as riders started to get dropped.


Cavendish is dropped

As the riders hit the descent, Marcus Burghardt took over the pace-setting for BMC. Unfortunately, two separate crashes brought down a few riders, including Sergey Chernetskii (Katusha) and Julien Vermote (Etixx-QuickStep).


As they hit the second climb which was the hardest on the course, CCC took over the pace-setting with Sylwester Szmyd and he created a big selection. A big group with Cavendish and Elia Viviani (Sky) got dropped but Etixx-QuickStep rallied around their team leader, gathering all their riders in the group of the blue jersey.


BMC start to work

Gusev got dropped from the front group which was quickly losing ground. As Szmyd led the peloton over the top, the front duo were only 30 seconds ahead while Cavendish had lost more than a minute.


Stefan Küng (BMC), Malori and Castroviejo started to work hard on the front after Burghardt had again led the peloton down the descent and they quickly caught the front duo. Behind, however, the entire Etixx-QuickStep team were working hard in the Cavendish group and they were riding a lot faster. Quickly it became apparent that they would get back in contention and the junction was made with 30km to go.


Mancebo attacks

Movistar briefly slowed down and Francisco Mancebo (Skydive) was quick to exploit the situation to attack. While Lastras again started to work for Movistar, the veteran managed to build a big advantage that reached 1.35 when they hit the next climb with 15km to go.


Lastras disappeared from the front and later also Malori and Castroviejo both blew up. Jesus Herrada and Eros Capecchi were the next to take over for Movistar and now the gap started to come down.


Vicioso makes his move

Angel Vicioso (Katusha) launched a strong attack while the peloton again splintered to pieces. However, Cavendish managed to stay in contact even though he dropped to the rear end of the peloton.


Vicioso got a small gap while Lars Boom (Astana) led the peloton down the descent. On the next small climb Janez Brajkovic (Unitedhealthcare) set off in pursuit but he never managed to join Vicioso.


Strong attack from Boom

The situation was difficult to control for Movistar who had lost most of their riders and they couldn’t stop Lars Boom (Astana) from attacking on the flat after the descent. He flew past both Vicioso and Brajkovic and quickly joined Mancebo.


The pair worked hard to maintain a 10-second advantage but as BMC were now working hard with Küng, Rick Zabel and Marcus Burghardt, they started to lose ground. With 5.5km to go, they were caught and BMC continued to set their fast pace.


With 2km to go, Etixx-QuickStep took control with Martin who had brought Cavendish back to the front. They were passed by Giant-Alpecin who got a bit of respite when Nibali took over and this set the scene for the exciting sprint.



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