Image 1 of 10
Einer Rubio (Movistar) soloed to victory atop Jebel Jais on stage 3 of the UAE Tour, while Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep) made a late surge to win the sprint for second place and so move into the red jersey of overall leader.
Evenepoel’s Soudal-QuickStep squad lead the pursuit of Rubio on the upper slopes of the climb, but the world champion’s anticipated offensive didn’t materialise in the final kilometres.
Instead, Evenepoel bided his time until the finishing straight, where he delivered a fierce acceleration to claim second place, 14 seconds down on Rubio.
The Belgian’s rasping effort saw him finish a second ahead of the rest of the sizeable chasing group, with Adam Yates (UAE Team Emirates) taking third ahead of Alexey Lutsenko (Astana-Qazaqstan) and previous race leader Luke Plapp (Ineos Grenadiers).
With the addition of the time bonus he picked up for second place, Evenepoel now leads Plapp by seven seconds overall, with Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious), third at 11 seconds, the only other rider within a minute on the general classification.
Evenepoel, who is still chasing his first win in the rainbow jersey, confessed to mild frustration at missing out on stage victory here after Rubio danced clear with 11km remaining.
The Colombian built a maximum lead of close to a minute and he still had 45 seconds in hand as he approached the steep upper portion of the ascent, where Evenepoel’s Soudal-QuickStep team led the pursuit in earnest.
“Of course, it’s a pity as we came so close to the first guy for the victory,” Evenepoel said. “I think with my sprint, I could have won the stage, but in the end the red jersey is a very nice reward also for the team.
“We had some bad luck, a few guys had a flat tyre on the climb and they had to come back, so we couldn’t actually execute the plan like we wanted. I wanted some guys to really speed up in the last kilometres so we could maybe catch the guy and I could do my sprint, but I think everybody was really strong today.”
Rubio, however, was full value for his first professional victory, which also came on the day of his 25th birthday. He arrived in the Gulf buoyed by a fine fourth place at last month’s Vuelta a San Juan, and he threw caution to the wind with a long-range attack here.
“The original tactic today was to follow the wheels,” said Rubio, who instead jumped off the front with 11km remaining, initially in the company of teammate Albert Torres.
Within a few hundred metres, Rubio was alone, and he quickly amassed a sizeable gap over the red jersey group, where UAE Team Emirates had imposed something of a stop-start rhythm after sending Mikkel Bjerg and Marc Soler on the offensive further down the climb.
In the final seven kilometres, Ineos and then Soudal-QuickStep laid down a more consistent tempo and his advantage began to contract, but Rubio had enough in hand to secure the honours.
“In the last kilometres, I had the doubt that they might come back and catch me, but I still had the strength to push on,” Rubio said happily.
“For me, it’s very special for my sporting career. I’ve had a lot of problems in previous years, and I didn’t have the opportunity to express my talent like I would have liked. For me and my family, it’s an incredible day, and I hope now I can continue on the same road. It’s my birthday too, so I couldn’t have asked for a better present.”
How it unfolded
As ever, the UAE Tour’s first summit finish was a day of two parts, with a long preamble from Umbrella Beach Al Fujairah to the base of the 19km haul to the line atop spectacular Jebel Jais.
Edward Planckaert (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Oier Lazkano (Movistar) and the Green Project-Bardiani CSF-Faizanè duo of Riccardo Lucca and Filippo Magli were the early attackers and they gained a maximum lead of six minutes before the peloton began to reel them in.
There were some mild frissons with 80km remaining, when UAE Team Emirates, Soudal-QuickStep and Bora-Hansgrohe all tested the waters to see if they could split the peloton into echelons, but it was soon apparent that the stage would be decided on the final ascent.
By then, Lazkano had attacked alone from the break, but the Basque would be reeled in on the lower slopes of Jebel Jais, after Ineos and Soudal-QuickStep had responded to a probing effort from Bjerg.
The Dane would make another attempt further up the climb, as would Marc Soler, but Ineos’ Ben Swift and Josh Tarling were able to snuff out the moves. At times, the pace was brisk rather than unbearable on the climb, as demonstrated by Pieter Serry’s swift recovery from an untimely puncture to return to Evenepoel’s side, and Rubio sensed an opening.
After being teed up by Torres, Rubio punched his way clear with 11km remaining. Samuele Zoccarato (Green Project-Bardiani CSF-Faizanè) tried to bridge across but only succeeded in getting caught in no man’s land.
As the gradient stiffened in the final three kilometres, Evenepoel’s teammates Josef Cerny and Mauro Schmid took over and the red jersey group was whittled down still further.
When Schmid swung off with a kilometre to go, Evenepoel seemed to consider going from distance, but he ultimately opted to delay his effort until the finishing straight to make sure he snatched the red jersey, and Rubio held on for victory.
Results powered by FirstCycling (opens in new tab)