The first stage of the UAE Tour 2023 was surely made for the sprinters, but the day proved everything but quiet. In the Emirates’ desert and wind, the echelons started from the very first kilometres on Monday, and Arnaud Démare battled for nearly two hours with Ignatas Konovalovas and Bram Welten to reconnect with the first peloton. They did make it back, but with thirty kilometres remaining, a group of twelve men managed to break away again and made it to the line. Tim Merlier took the win on this opening day while most of the Groupama-FDJ team finished about a minute down. Tuesday, a team time trial will be on the menu.
Looking at the profile, and only at the profile, the outcome of the UAE Tour’s first stage seemed very predictable. One hundred and fifty kilometres were to be covered, with no climbing at all along the way. Yet, it meant forgetting the fundamental factor of this day: the location. It is indeed in the desert that the race started on Monday, on a course that was therefore completely exposed to the wind. The latter did not fail to create damage, and already from kilometre 0 which was crossed at full speed by a peloton that split into pieces very quickly. “As we imagined, the start was very fast, with a side wind,” said Sébastien Joly. “There was a crash from the start that involved Laurence [Pithie], but he seems to be ok. As for the race, we had Kono, Arnaud and Bram in the second group which later came back to the first”. With difficulty though. It indeed happened with 50k to go after a relentless fight between the first two bunches, which lasted for over nearly ninety kilometres with a gap fluctuating between thirty seconds and one minute.
“We limit the losses”, Sébastien Joly
In the lead, Arnaud Démare then found himself with some of his sprint rivals, while the biggest peloton took advantage of an easier pace at the front to gradually reduce his four-minute gap. Thirty kilometres from the finish, it even seemed everything was about to come back together, but the action restarted. “In the final, the first group split again, and they made it until the end,” commented Sébastien. Only twelve riders managed to make the right move, and the Groupama-FDJ men were unfortunately not among them. “In the back, the third peloton joined the second one and we eventually limited the losses for the general classification”, added Sébastien. “Only Remco Evenepoel and Pello Bilbao took a bit of a lead, but everything is still possible for Michael”. Tim Merlier won the stage in a small group as the main peloton finished fifty-one seconds later, with Arnaud Démare and Michael Storer among it. On Tuesday, the UAE Tour will organise a team time trial for the first time in its history. Seventeen-kilometre long, the event should also be crucial for the overall. “We will commit properly and give 100%,” concluded Sébastien Joly.