A day after he came perilously close to winning the Dubai Silicon Oasis sprint, Caleb Ewan outran the best of sprinters and climbers to ace the Hatta Dam and take the second stage of the UAE Tour 2020. A hot favourite to win Stage 2’s uphill finish at Hatta Dam, where he claimed victory last year, Australia’s Ewan handled the pressure to make it two in a row. Also Read - Over 4000 Cyclists Turn Up For Virtual Spring Classic Stage
Ewan edged Sam Bennett and in the process took over the race lead and the red jersey from winner of the first stage Pascal Ackermann as he and some of the best sprinters – including Mark Cavendish and Chris Froome – were dropped from the peloton into the final eight kilometres of the climb. In the overall standings, Ewan leads Bennett by 12 seconds, with Demare third at 16 seconds and Nikolai Cherkasov (Gazprom-RusVelo) fourth at 17 seconds. Also Read - Adam Yates Solos to Victory, Bosses Tough Climb of Jebel Hafeet
“It’s great to win here again one year later,” Ewan said right after the win. “We thought it would be a harder stage this time but due to the absence of the wind it was a pretty straightforward race. My team positioned me perfectly. I wasn’t worried when Sam Bennett went before me because I knew this race was to be won in the last twenty meters. Now I lead the UAE Tour after I led the Santos Tour Down Under early this year. It always feels good leading a stage race even if it might last for only one day.” Also Read - Pascal Ackerman Powers to Stage 1 Win of UAE Tour 2020
It was a hard, yet day out on the road for the riders Monday. There were two non-starters this morning with Miles Scotson (Groupama-FDJ) and Laurens De Plus (Jumbo-Visma) withdrawing due to illness. No sooner than the race started, winner of white jersey, Veljko Stojnic and teammate Leonardo Tortomasi took the lead in the intermediate sprint and were on the attack. They stayed away until the second intermediate sprint of the day which they raced through until the final 50 kms were left.
The four-minute lead was brought down by a minute by Lotto Soudal even as Stojnic ensured he would wear the black jersey again tomorrow at the start by taking maximum points and becoming the leader of the intermediate sprints classification. Tortomasi stabilises a lead of 1:30 before falling sharply ahead and as the final 10 kms of the race unfolded, the top sprinters Cavendish and Froome lose contact with their team.
As the finish line appeared close, Victor Campenaerts (NTT) launched a wonderful attack and was joined by Trek-Segafredos’ Nicola Conci as they took a 20-second lead but lost steam with less than four kms to go. Astana came to the party allowing Alexey Lutsenko to come through but he was undone by Jasper De Buyst, who opened the gap for Ewan to speed through. Bennett threatened Ewan until the final 300 meters away from the finish line and led the charge at the bottom of the brutal final climb, but Ewan’s experience of having successfully done this earlier saw him cross the line before anyone with rather ease.
Ewan, who emerged second in the opening stage Sunday, explained how having triumphed last year, helped him prepare the final stretch of the tough climb and shed light on how it was important for him to start the season well
“I knew from last year that you can see the finish from the bottom of the climb to Hatta Dam and it doesn’t look so far but it’s very hard and we don’t go so fast up that hill. I made sure that I kept the energy I needed for the last 50 metres,” he said during the press conference.
“After the successful season I had last year I really wanted to start this season well and keep the momentum. This year’s start is better than last year’s. Milan-Sanremo is the race I’ve really been aiming for at the start of every season in the past few years. Nothing changes here. It’s my big goal for the first part of 2020. This year we’ll have an even better team than last year and we have a second option with Philippe Gilbert if the race is hard.”
The other big takeaway from the race was an update in Froome, who will most likely, no longer take part in the remaining stages. Although he was dropped with 10 kms to go, the four-time Tour de France winner almost regained contact before being dislodged from the bunch again. The struggle was evident as he came home more than three minutes down.