Merlier Wins Stage 1 of UAE Tour
Stage 1 of the 2023 UAE Tour was a 151-kilometer flat stage from Al Dhafra Castle to Al Mirfa designed by race organizers as a delicious treat for sprinters, thereby hoping to attract popular sprinters to the race.
The stage was decided in a close sprint from a select group of eleven riders - the closest finish ever in the history of the UAE Tour. Tim Merlier (Soudal-QuickStep team) was the fastest man on the day and beat Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Dstny) and former world champion Mark Cavendish of Team Astana-Qazaqstan in a stage final contested next to the Al Mirfa seafront.
Merlier, Ewan and Cavendish had cleverly been monitoring the action at the front of the peloton with about an hour of racing left and smartly joined a breakaway group that consisted of twelve riders.
The stage offered exciting racing with the route taking the riders from Al Dhafra castle and through the stormy desert. The racing conditions caused multiple echelons to form shortly after the stage start and for a long while a 24-man front group featuring world champion Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep), Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe), and Luke Plapp (Ineos-Grenadiers) dominated the race, before the groups were reunited after the second intermediate sprint of the day. Later, a new breakaway group broke away featuring the stage winner.
“It was a hard stage, but I believed in myself and in this squad,” Merlier explained to Roadcycling.com after being celebrated on the podium. “Bert did a great job to launch me, I had a good jump and the moment I started the sprint I felt good and kept powering on, but Caleb (Ewan) came off my wheel and he’s always dangerous. I gave it my all, but it was close so we had to wait fifteen minutes to learn who won, but it was worth it and I’m happy to take another victory for the team”.
“I also have to thank Remco (Evenepoel) for this. He was incredibly strong and delivered a top effort in the crosswinds to help the group stay off the front. The race is still long, but we had a perfect start and this only motivates us for the next stages.”
Merlier will wear the red leader’s jersey in tomorrow’s stage 2 of the UAE Tour 2023 - a team time trial near Khalifa port.