Evenepoel Wins UAE Tour
Today’s stage 7 was the final stage of the 2023 UAE Tour and would determine the outcome of the final mountain battle for the climbers in the race and decide if race leader Remco Evenepoel of Team Soudal-QuickStep would be able to hold on to his race lead and be crowned UAE Tour Champion.
The stage was a 153-kilometer ride from Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium to Jebel Hafeet, a mostly flat route until the riders reached the Jebel Hafeet climb where the finale would take place. Spectators and cycling fans watching from home were expecting a watch worthy battle between climbers and general classification contenders on the 10.7-kilometer Jebal Hafit climb featuring an average gradient of 6.8 percent and a maximum gradient of no less than 10.1 percent.
Jebel Hafeet is the sole mountain in the Abu Dhabi Emirate, and it has given its name to an important period in UAE history – the Bronze Age Hafit (Hafeet) Period – because archeologists have discovered a cluster of important Bronze Age beehive tombs at its foothills.
Before the stage, race leader and World Champion Evenepoel had announced he would aim for the double of winning the final stage and taking the victory in the final stage but would be satisfied with winning the UAE Tour Champion Trophy.
Today’s breakaway hopefuls formed a five-man attacking group almost from the beginning of the stage. The group featured Lithuanian Ignatas Konovalovas (Team Groupama-FDJ), AG2R-Citroen’s Jaakko Hänninen, Michel Hessmann (Team Jumbo-Visma), Maurice Ballerstedt (Alpecin-Deceuninck), and Sam Welsford (Team DSM).
The peloton held the breakaway group on a tight leash as the main contenders intended to use the opportunities provided by the final climb to their own advantage. At the bottom of the climb to the finish line the front group had a lead of no more than 2 minutes and 30 seconds on the peloton that was chasing behind at a fast pace to reel in the breakaway group and deter further attacks before the finale. Konovalovas and Hessmann became the last men standing before they were eventually caught.
The UAE Team Emirates riders were hoping to make a blast on the final stage by taking the stage victory on the home turf of their title sponsor. The team worked hard from the beginning of the climb to set a fast pace that would crush all other team’s hopes of being able to launch a decisive attack. Mikkel Bjerg was first to set the pace. He was followed by teammate Marc Soler and Brandon McNulty. UAE Team Emirates leader Adam Yates then attacked.
Evenepoel countered Yates’ attack and was followed by Sepp Kuss (Team Jumbo-Visma), Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious), and Luke Plapp (Ineos-Grenadiers). Geoffrey Bouchard meanwhile initiated a strong chase to deliver a noteworthy pace for his AG2R-Citroen team.
Yates and Evenepoel eventually left all other contenders behind and while they competed for the stage victory and the general classification win, Plapp and Bilbao played mouse and cat in their quest for the remaining general classification podium spots.
Yates eventually managed to distance himself from Evenepoel and then crossed the finish line in solo fashion as winner of the final stage of this year’s UAE Tour. Evenepoel reached the finish ten seconds later and thereby took the victory in the general classification. Bouchard finished third.
“That we pushed full gas in the first ten minutes of the climb contributed to the fact that it worked out well,” stage winner Yates told Roadcycling.com. “Then I attacked, and Remco (Evenepoel) and Sepp Kuss followed me, and then when I attacked one more time, that was it for them. I went on the steepest part of the climb, which suited me the most.”
”Remco knew exactly what to do behind me. He wasn’t going to lose one minute in the last three kilometers. The UAE Emirates Team trusted me and believed in me so it’s a real pleasure to win here in our home race."
In the final general classification, Evenepoel won the race in 19:55:40. Plapp finished the race nine seconds back, while Yates’ strong performance on today’s climb was sufficient to push Bilbao off the final podium spot.
"It was all out from the bottom to the top of Jebel Hafeet and I am happy with my performance, having not yet done much climbing training this year,” Evenepoel explained to roadcycling.com after being celebrated on the podium.
“I honestly wasn’t expecting to win this race. I came for a good result, but I wouldn’t have thought I’d win it by one minute. I was in good shape all week and I wanted to fight for my Red Jersey today. There’s room for improvement before this year’s Giro d’Italia, but I can be happy with this victory."
Evenepoel’s overall victory in this year’s UAE Tour was a major step towards his main season goal of winning the Giro d’Italia 2023 after taking the victory in last year’s Vuelta a Espana and later the World Champion title.
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