The UAE Tour got off to a flying start on Sunday. With wind and echelons as the main factors on this first stage, the race was decided with more than 100 kilometers to go when about 25 riders made the decisive move. Anthony Roux and Alexys Brunel got in the right group, but only the former French champion managed to hold on until the end, eventually taking a nice seventh place on the line, in what is the team’s first top 10 in the WorldTour this year.
The opening seconds quickly set the tone for the rest of the day in the opening stage of the UAE Tour. The peloton had barely taken the start in the Abu Dhabi’s desert when some splits appeared already. “In the first thirty kilometers, there was a strong 3/4 tailwind,” said Jussi Veikkanen, a sports director alongside Philippe Mauduit on the race. “Right away, there was therefore a real fight, which was first initiated by the Ineos team. A group of sixteen got up front and we had William and Olivier in there. It was great, but it was an unsuccessful attempt as the wind direction then changed.” For a moment, the peloton calmed down, but it didn’t last very long. Just over a hundred kilometers from the finish, the race got crazy again. “Just before the first intermediate sprint, Deceuninck-Quick Step accelerated again, and it was the right move this time,” added Jussi. A group of twenty-seven riders thus made a real gap as the peloton continued to spread out in echelons across the road.
“It was almost non-stop all day”, Jussi Veikkanen
Among the leaders were Anthony Roux and Alexys Brunel for the Groupama-FDJ cycling team. Both helped the group gaining ground, and the gap quickly rose to one minute before some teams started a mano a mano. However, the gap never wavered and it even reached two minutes later on, forcing the peloton to surrender. In the lead, “we had a strong Anthony Roux”, continued Jussi. “Alexys also had a good stage, but he got dropped forty kilometers from the finish. He was not feeling good at all in the end, then he sat up thinking to the time trial.” As for the former French champion, he remained in the mix for the stage victory until the last few hundred meters. “Anthony gave his best, but it was a solid group with big sprinters like Gaviria, Viviani, Van der Poel.” On the line, the Dutch champion won the day, while the Groupama-FDJ road captain secured a fine top 10 with seventh.
“The race went well for me, even if it was not planned like this as we had Matteo and Attila as leaders,” said the Frenchman. “I ended up in front with Alexys when the echelons started and then the legs did the talk. It was not easy for a returning race. Some had already raced before, I’m still lacking some power but it turned out ok. I did my best and think I couldn’t do better in this sprint with the guys that there were. I still have to work to get the condition that would allow me to do even better, but I’m still happy”. “It was a very, very tough stage,” said Jussi. “It was almost non-stop all day. The wind was there as expected and that made for a very nervous race. Until the last lap, the peloton still had hope and will to come back, which made the stage even harder. The proof is that it continued to split in the last third of the race”. At the end of this first stage, Anthony Roux is eighth in the overall standings, on the eve of a 13-kilometer individual time trial. “Anthony is doing great, he has a good place overall so of course he’ll do it full-gas,” Jussi said. “The plan is the same for Alexys. But since this is the returning race and the first time trial of the year for many, we will commit 100% with everyone. Not only to do well, but also to make it useful for the rest of the year.”