Dispatch from the desert: Abu Dhabi Tour

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As the Middle East’s only WorldTour race, the 2018 Abu Dhabi Tour attracted the fastest riders around. With a time trial and a summit finish, however, as well as plenty of long flat roads, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s just another desert sprint-fest

Photographs: Russ Ellis

After the Tour Down Under and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, Abu Dhabi was the destination for the last WorldTour race outside of Europe for a while.

 

It also presented Rouleur with the chance for a bit of Winter sun. If one team official has his way, however, we may not be back next year. The desert races, he said, “serve no purpose”,  prove a logistical nightmare and disrupt the riders’ calendar.

 

In our eyes at least, it would be a shame to see it go. For though the crowds were sparse, with fans on the isolated final stage comfortably outnumbered by the organisation, the parcours was picturesque, the racing, especially when the crosswinds came, hard-fought, thrilling and fast.

 

Well, perhaps not the first stage, which was conducted at such a sedate pace that one Astana rider was able to stop for a natural break with 12k to go.

Only Tom Dumoulin was furious. A crash and two mechanicals – including one which may have cost him the time trial – left the Dutchman sore and stroppy. Still, if the number of pros who brought him up unprompted in interviews is anything to go by, Dumoulin is clearly admired by his peers in the peloton and increasingly viewed as its patron. Anyone can have a bad week.

 

Of the sprints, while he did not dominate, Elia Viviani was unquestionably their star. His Quick-Step lead-out train never left the tracks and looks like it was made for him. When he looks back on the race, Marcel Kittel should probably say the same. Former (and future) hour record holder Alex Dowsett was in his element, leading the way in the run-up to flat stage flammes rouge. While his fastman can’t be far off his best form, Kittel couldn’t quite bring it home.

Abu Dhabi Tour

The general classification was always going to go to a climber who could limit his losses in the TT, or a time trialist who could climb. As he kicked back with a burrito while waiting for his win to be confirmed, Rohan Dennis clearly fancied his chances as the latter.

 

Come a blustery Sunday morning in Al Ain however, the smart money was on Alejandro Valverde. The Movistar man had lost a mere 24 seconds to Dennis in the time trial which, after factoring in time bonuses, meant he only needed a 14 second gap on the line. Jebel Hafeet might be built on sand, but at 10.5k and ramping up in places to 17%, it’s a proper climb. For the likes of Valverde, fourteen seconds is nothing.

 
Miguel Angel Lopez gave him a run for his dirham, even pushing ahead on the steepest section, but The Green Bullet would not be denied. Of course one day he will, but for now Valverde wins stage races when he wants.

 

At the roadside to capture the flavour of the Abu Dhabi Tour for Rouleur was photographer Russ Ellis.

 

Stage 1 – Madinat Zaya to Adnoc School

Abu Dhabi Tour

 

 

 

Stage 2 – Yas Mall to Yas Beach

 

Gallery: A sense of space – scenes from the pros’ track day in Abu Dhabi

 

Stage 3 – Nation Towers to Big Flag

Abu Dhabi Tour

 

 

Abu Dhabi TourStage 4 – Al Maryah Island to Al Maryah Island (Individual Time Trial)

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Stage 5 – Qasr Al Muwaiji to Jebel Hafeet

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