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Echelons are the order of the day in UAE Tour sprinters’ summit

Advantage Evenepoel before Tuesday's team time trial

There were crosswinds and echelons all day in the opener of the 2023 WorldTour’s second stage race, the UAE Tour, on Monday with Belgian champion Tim Merlier (Soudal-QuickStep) winning a reduced bunch sprint in Al Mirfa. Remco Evenepoel was in the 11-rider group that contested the win. Canadian Derek Gee was 81st.

Groups were all over the road on the 151-km course from Al Dhafra Castle to Al Mirfa. The two front groups merged with 50 km to go, but with the main field closing 21 km later, this leading bunch split once more. It was a photo finish as Merlier just nipped Caleb Ewan, who raised his arm in victory. Mark Cavendish was third.

Merlier and Evan reviewed the tape just like the judges.

So close

A gathering of the fast men
Most of the fast-twitch muscle aces are in the UAE: Merlier, Evan, Cavendish, Sam Bennett, Elia Viviani, Dylan Groenewegen, Arnaud Démare, Danny van Poppel, Fernando Gaviria and Olav Kooij. They’ll battle the winds and each other to contest some of the flattest course profiles in the WorldTour on Stage 4, 5 and 6.

The GC scraps ahead
Tuesday’s Stage 2 will be a crucial 17-km team time trial. Stages 3 and 7, the final day, have summit finishes. The first one, Jebel Jais, is 19 km of 5.6 percent, and the race’s GC climax, Jebel Hafeet, rises 10.6 km at 6.8 percent. The overall contenders are world champion Evenepoel, 2023 Tour Down Under titlist Jay Vine, Sepp Kuss, UAE-Emirates’ new chap and 2020 winner Adam Yates and Pello Bilbao, who was third place last season. Reigning two-time champion Tadej Pogačar skipped the race to dominate the Ruta del Sol.

Derek Gee, 34th in the Tour Down Under, is the lone Canadian in the UAE.

2023 UAE Tour, Stage 1
1) Tim Merlier (Belgium/Soudal-QuickStep) 3:17:35
2) Caleb Ewan (Australia/Lotto-Dstny) s.t.
3) Mark Cavendish (Great Britain/Astana) s.t.
81) Derek Gee (Canada/Israel-Premier Tech) +0:51