DUBAI (VN) — With the world’s tallest building as a backdrop, perhaps it was no coincidence that two of the peloton’s tallest riders came out tops in Saturday’s fourth and final stage at the inaugural Dubai Tour.
Six-foot-2 Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) made it a hat trick in the desert, kicking to his fourth win of 2014, leaving Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), who was knocked out of the sprint in the final right-hander, winless on the season.
Phinney, who stands even taller at 6-foot-5, finished safely in the pack to wrap up a morale-boosting overall title.
It was their power and speed, not their respective heights, that made the difference for Kittel and Phinney during four days of racing through the over-the-top urban landscape of the Las Vegas of the Middle East.
Phinney won the opening time trial, then enjoyed solid support from his BMC Racing teammates to protect his lead, including a challenging hilly stage Friday that saw attacks from Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), and world champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida).
The victory is Phinney’s first stage-race victory since turning pro, and he said he’s pedaling into 2014 with his best form ever.
“I haven’t had a problem-free winter, injury or sickness-wise, ever,” Phinney said. “This was my first solid winter.
“I had a great time in the U.S. with my friends in Boulder, Colorado, and a really solid month of training in San Diego. And always with my personal soigneur/personal massage therapist with me. I invested a lot into this year. I knew it was a very important year, so I’m super happy starting the season this way.”
The victory is also a boon for BMC Racing, which has seen important behind-the-scenes changes, with a new coaching and training program already paying dividends.
Steve Cummings finished second and Peter Velits was ninth, helping BMC to win the team prize as well.
“This was an important victory for Taylor and the BMC Racing Team,” said team president and general manager Jim Ochowicz. “Taylor has shown his maturity in leading the team throughout the week and the team is keeping pace with our expectations for 2014.”
Up next for Phinney is another time trial target at the Tour Méditerranéen in France and a start at Paris-Nice to help Tejay van Garderen challenge for the overall. Then it’s full blast into the classics.
Kittel, meanwhile, won his third stage in a row in another impressive show of execution for the German ace.
The wide-open roads saw a drag race between the sprint trains, with the peloton going full gas in the closing kilometers as one team after another tried to nose its sprinters forward.
The pressure was on Omega Pharma-Quick Step to deliver Cavendish to the line, but things once again went sideways for the former world champion. Omega Pharma was doing a good job positioning Cavendish, but he appeared to clip a traffic pylon, which knocked him out of contention.
Cavendish refused to answer journalists’ queries at the finish line, saying only, “I didn’t do the sprint.”
While it’s too early to draw conclusions, but it’s clear that Cavendish and Omega Pharma still need to work out some kinks that come with the arrival of Mark Renshaw and Alessandro Petacchi. Renshaw tried to save the day after Cavendish was knocked out, but could only muster second against Kittel, who hopes to build on his successes of 2013.
“I’m in very good shape already, I can’t complain about my legs,” Kittel said. “Yesterday was I think one of the tough tests for me personally, for my shape, and I made it. Today we had the fastest sightseeing tour ever. It was a really hard stage, and I think I can be confident now for the rest of the season.”
The sprint ended a four-day experiment in Dubai, one of the most extravagant and opulent Middle Eastern nations getting into the cycling game.
Soccer legend Diego Maradona showed up for the finale, much to the delight of the Emirati sheiks and other VIPs hanging out at the finish line.
Big crowds turned out for the final stage, suggesting that the sport could find traction in this part of the world. The Emirates are betting big on cycling. In addition to backing the race, they’ve also funded the Sky Dive Dubai team, and are linked to the new project backed by Formula One champion Fernando Alonso, who visited the race Thursday.
Riders came away impressed, not only with the opulent accommodation and infrastructure, but also with good weather and road conditions.
While races like Dubai, Oman and Qatar will never challenge the gravity of the European calendar, everyone seems to agree that racing on the flats and in the winds here in the early months of the season present a fine way to prepare for the season’s major races.