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Casper van Uden (DSM-Firmenich PostNL) claimed victory on the opening stage of the AlUla Tour at Al Manshiya Train Station, edging to the line in a close bunch sprint finish just ahead of Dylan Groenewegen (Jayco-AlUla) and Tim Merlier (Soudal-QuickStep).
22-year-old Van Uden was the first of the fastmen to hit the front in the sprint at the end of the 149km stage, jumping into the wind after UAE Team Emirates had set up a lead-out in the final kilometre.
Behind him, Groenewegen found himself boxed in, while Juan Sebastián Molano (UAE Team Emirates) couldn’t take advantage of Ivo Oliveira’s lead out and Søren Wærenskjold (Uno-X Mobility) didn’t quite have the speed to get clear.
Groenewegen found some space late on to burst through, but he couldn’t make up enough ground to pass Van Uden, instead having to settle for second by a quarter of a wheel. Just behind them, Merlier pipped Wærenskjold to third place by an even smaller margin.
Van Uden pulls on the first leader’s green jersey of the race thanks to the 10-second bonus at the finish, though a hilly finish on stage 2 means leadership is likely to swap hands at Sharaan Nature Reserve.
“I think we’re all super happy. Secretly we knew we could do it so that’s why we fought for it. It’s super nice for everyone that it worked out,” Van Uden said after capturing the first win of his pro career.
“I think we tried to stay at the front, but it was a lot of fighting with the other boys. They stayed well up front and I stayed calm. We made our big move in the final 3km, then I stayed with UAE in the final and then hit the front and it was good enough.
“I think that last year I wanted to win too much, so I made a few mistakes and had a few hard crashes. I started to doubt myself but over the winter all the team, trainers and riders believed in me. It’s super nice both for me and them and I cannot thank them enough for believing in me.”
Van Uden’s DSM team was among the most prominent of the final run to the line at the end of a mostly flat stage. The Dutch squad were up front in the peloton along with Uno-X and Jayco, with the group having caught the breakaway 18km from the finish.
Unai Zubeldia (Euskaltel-Euskadi) was the last man standing from the move, which went clear inside the opening 15km of the day. He’d go on to claim the most active rider jersey after leaving break mates Ali Al Shaikhamed, Hassan Al Ibrahim (Saudi Arabia), Carter Bettles (Roojai Insurance), and Masaki Yamamoto (JCL Team Ukyo) behind inside the final 50km.
Bettles stuck with Zubeldia but suffered a mechanical problem 28km out to leave the Basque rider out front alone. After his adventure was ended by the charging peloton, it was all about the sprint and so the teams with the fast finishers hit the front in the chase for the finish line.
UAE Team Emirates were the most organised in the final kilometres, though, moving up with two men lined out in front of Molano. Oliveira was the last man in the final kilometre, though it was Van Uden who put himself in the best position on the final dash towards the line after taking Oliveira’s wheel from Molano.
He hit the wind earlier than his competitors, but with others fighting for space behind and making their way from behind the lead-outs, it proved to be a clever move as he powered clear to claim the win just in front of Groenwegen.
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