Abu Dhabi Tour: Rui Costa gives UAE Team Emirates the ‘important’ home victory they sought
Assembled in November, registered in December and unveiled in January, UAE Team Emirates are certainly the new kids on the UCI World Tour block.
Indeed, they have only been known by their present name for four days after Emirates Airline secured co-sponsor rights of the UAE-Abu Dhabi Professional Cycle Team.
After making their World Tour debut at the Tour Down Under in Australia last month, UAE Team Emirates headed “home” for this week’s Abu Dhabi Tour, where captain Rui Costa made his first appearance for his new team.
On the eve of the Abu Dhabi Tour, Costa said it was “important for us to do well … this is our home race”.
And do well he did on Friday, winning the third Al Maryah Island Stage, the Tour’s 186-kilometre mid-mountain stage, to take over the red jersey from Mark Cavendish.
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Costa led a late breakaway and was swiftly joined by Team Katusha-Alpecin’s Ilnur Zakarin. It soon became clear that the stage would be decided between the two riders as the chasing pack struggled to close the gap, despite the best efforts of third-placed Tom Dumoulin of Team Sunweb.
In the final sprint atop Jebel Hafeet, Costa proved to have the stronger legs and easily beat his Russian rival by four seconds to claim the stage in four hours, 34 minutes and eight seconds.
Barring catastrophe on Saturday’s fourth and final stage, Costa should deliver UAE Team Emirates their first World Tour General Classification title. That is how a captain, quite literally, leads from the front.
“I started the final climb a long way back and I had to put a lot of effort in to reach the front of the peloton,” Costa, 30, said. “When I got there I realised that my legs were good and I tried to surprise the others with an attack a long way out.
“That was the right tactic. I was still suffering from the initial effort so I saved myself with Zakarin at the end to recuperate for the sprint.”
As a three-time stage winner of the Tour de France and the 2013 World Road Race champion, Costa is fully accustomed to winning, but the Portuguese was understandably delighted to register his first World Tour stage victory for UAE Team Emirates at their home race.
“For us it was very important to have a great result here,” he said. “I can’t say I was under pressure but psychologically I knew we had to perform at our best.
“We won and there couldn’t be a better result. We are extremely happy for this victory here in Abu Dhabi, with a new sponsor and a brand-new jersey.
“I’m very happy with this victory that will boost my morale for the remainder of the season.”
The 2017 Abu Dhabi Tour concludes on Sunday with the 143km Yas Island Stage, which will be 26 laps around the Yas Marina Circuit. Similarly to the first two stages, the focus will be on the sprinters as Cavendish looks to win the battle for the green jersey.
The Team Dimension Data rider — and Abu Dhabi Tour Ambassador — leads the General Points Classification by nine points ahead of sprint rival and Stage 2 winner Marcel Kittel.
Classification from Abu Dhabi Tour after Stage 3
1 Rui Costa (Portugal, UAE Team Emirates) 12:39:15”
2 Ilnur Zakarin (Russia, Katusha) +4”
3 Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands, Sunweb) +16”
4 Bauke Mollema (Netherlands, Trek) +38”
5 Rafal Majka (Poland, BORA) +56”
6 George Bennett (New Zealand, LottoNL)
7 Fabio Aru (Italy, Astana)
8 Domenico Pozzovivo (Italy, AG2R)
9 Julian Alaphilippe (France, Quick-Step)
10 Romain Bardet (France, AG2R) +1:08”
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Updated: February 25, 2017 04:00 AM