DUBAI (VN) — If Marcel Kittel continues like he is at the Dubai Tour, it’s going to be a very long summer for rival sprinters.
Kittel (Giant-Shimano) snuck into a reduced group of about 30 riders, clearing a pair of climbs that split the bunch late in the 162-kilometer third stage from Dubai to Hatta, and then turned on the turbos in the final 100 meters to win for the second day in a row.
“I’m very happy for this win. The team worked very well today. They gave me a big hand to get me to the finish, and I repaid them with a good win,” said Kittel. “Today was hard because we had to chase down the attackers on the climbs. I know this is one of my limits and I want to improve so that I can win races with climbs before a flat finish.”
Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) rode with panache to cover moves in an animated final 10km that saw attacks from world champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). Phinney crossed the line with the front group to carry the leader’s jersey into Saturday’s street-circuit finale.
Phinney coolly marked the moves when they came, and thanked his teammates for the hard work in what could have been an otherwise explosive situation.
“Today was a hard stage, the hardest stage of the race. My team did an amazing job of controlling it,” Phinney said. “Klaas Lodewyck, Sebastian Lander, Rick Zabel — they were in control the entire day. I did my best to follow the moves, to follow the guys that I needed to follow, and I felt really strong. I’m very happy to cross the line safely and still having the jersey at the end of the day.”
Evan Huffman (Astana) was part an early six-man breakaway that carved out a five-minute lead, putting the American into the “virtual lead” throughout the stage. With 50km to go, things got serious, as BMC, Movistar, and Trek Factory Racing upped the pace in the peloton.
The course turned into a rugged, treeless mountain landscape in the “queen stage” of the four-day Dubai Tour. With 25km to go, only two danglers remained, and the gap quickly shrank to just over two minutes. Alexandr Pliuschin (SkyDive Dubai) made things interesting, holding out until 7.5km to go.
Cannondale pressed with two riders at the front, positioning Peter Sagan for the descent on a smooth, wide road. Phinney was tucked in about six wheels back, with teammate and second-place rider Steve Cummings guiding him down toward the finale.
Kittel, meanwhile, made it over the late-stage climbs to sneak into the front group. Garmin-Sharp’s Daryl van Baarle sprinted early, but Kittel bided his time, opening up the turbos with 100 meters to go to claim his third win of the 2014 season.
Kittel will have a shot at the hat trick in Saturday’s 123km final stage from the World Trade Center to the base of the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa.
Archrival Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) made in it with the front group, but did not contest the sprint. Saturday’s final stage should set the stage for a showdown between Kittel and the former world champion.
Phinney, meanwhile, is poised to take a major scalp with a stage race victory. Now in his fourth pro season, Phinney didn’t downplay how important it would be for him to take home the trophy.
“I knew from when this race came out that I would have a really good chance of winning. It’s only a 2.1 (UCI registration level) but with the amount of competition that’s here, if I’m able to pull this off tomorrow and if we do it as a team and take that trophy home, I’ll be very happy,” he said.
“We go into tomorrow knowing that nothing is given. It’s not over yet, but it’s looking good. Cycling’s very unpredictable and you never know what can happen in front of you, but something pretty drastic would have to happen tomorrow [to lose].”