The first mountain-top finish of the UAE Tour did not end up with a big fight between the GC contenders on Wednesday, but it has at least made a first selection. Some twenty riders, including Michael Storer, 23rd on the line, finished together after the ascent of Jebel Jais. The Australian thus moved up to 21st place overall while several sprinters’ stages are upcoming.

After getting off the beaten track on Tuesday with a team time trial, the UAE Tour returned to its tradition on Wednesday with a third stage leading to the summit of the well-known Jebel Jais. No other climb preceded the final one, which was to be tackled after more than 160 kilometres. “We know this stage quite well, as we have already done it in the past”, confirmed Sébastien Joly. “Therefore, we knew what to expect. The only difference is that the approach was even easier than usual. Before, the road was quite narrow. This time, it was still a very large road. There was a slight wind, but nothing too serious, and the guys protected Michael until the bottom of the climb to put him in the best condition”. Oier Lazkano (Movistar), Edward Planckaert (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Riccardo Lucca and Filippo Magli (Green Project-Bardiani CSF-Faizanè) led the way all day hoping to reach the bottom of the final ascent in the lead, but only the Spanish rider succeeded to do so. Approaching Jebel Jais, his lead was about three minutes over the bunch, which gradually got ready for battle, but which also set a constant pace.

“The last stage will suit Michael much better“, Sébastien Joly

“It’s a very very specific climb”, pointed out Sébastien. “There are twenty-one kilometres of climbing at an average of 5% on a very wide road, and only the last 2500 meters are a little steeper, at 7%”. Consequently, very few attacks occurred within the pack, which was still made up of around sixty riders halfway through the top. Diego Rubio (Movistar) still found his way up ten kilometres from the summit, while the pace in the peloton remained regular although being high. “Reuben fulfilled his role as protector for Michael, he brought him up a few times and it was important given the speed they were going,” added Sébastien. Five kilometres from the summit, the leading Colombian extended his gap to one minute and the favourites group soon increased the pace. However, there was still a thirty-second lead for the lone rider at the flamme rouge, and he was then able to win ahead of a peloton reduced to around twenty riders and outsprinted by Remco Evenepoel. “Michael finished twenty-third, fifteen seconds behind the winner, like the third of the stage”, completed Sébastien. “Only Evenepoel took a second from the rest of the favorites. It’s a good day, especially since the last stage will suit Michael much better with a shorter and steeper climb”.

On Wednesday, the Australian gained thirty-seven places overall to find himself just outside the top-20 (21st), 1’26’’ down to the leader Evenepoel, but only fourteen seconds away from the top-10. “Tomorrow, we will be back on a sprinters stage, in Dubai”, concluded Sébastien. “While protecting Michael, we’ll aim to do a good sprint for Arnaud with the sprint group”.

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