John Degenkolbof Trek - Segafredo won Stage 3 of the 2017 Dubai Tour from Dubai to Al Aqah (200km), while Quick-Step Floors’ Marcel Kittel kept the lead in the overall General Classification.
With his team leader Mark Cavendish missing from the back of the Dimension Data train, Janse van Rensburg took the initiative and sprinted for the line. He appeared to have it but Degenkolb passed him in the final metres to take his first victory of the season.
It was Degenkolb’s first win of the year, and his first major victory over his top rivals since a training crash in January 2016. Recovery from the car crashing into his training group and nearly severing a fingertip took most of the 2016 season. It was also the first season win for his new team Trek-Segafredo. “”I really wanted to get this win for the team,” he said later.
How it happened
The race got off to a relatively quiet start and the break group formed after 20 kilometres, with Mark Christian (Aqua Blue Sport) making the cut for the second day in a row. He was joined by Luka Pibernik (Bahrain-Merida) Loic Vliegen (BMC Racing), and Alex Dowsett (Movistar). They gradually pulled away, building up a comfortable gap of nearly six minutes.
Then the wind and the desert hit the field and the peloton shattered, with many big names smashed by the echelons. Cavendish was in the first chase group, but Kittel and Degenkolb were not. Conditions were vicious, with the strong wind blowing not only the peloton apart but also causing sand to whip across the roads. Echelons and crashes took over and the first two chase groups finally came back together, uniting the contenders for the sprint finale.
Noticeable, however, was the blood streaming down Kittel’s face, from near his left eye. At first it was thought that he had been hit by blowing debris, but team manager Patrick Lefevere later claimed he was “beaten by an Astana rider- Andrey Grivko” and called for the race jury to take action. Kittel would confirm to television after the stage that he had in fact been hit by another rider.
For long periods on a day that saw a vicious sandstorm, Kittel was left riding without his glasses. Such was the power of Grivko’s punch that Kittel had to slow down for medical attention.
Grivko was later disqualified from the race by the jury as a short-term punishment. But Kittel felt there should be bigger punishment for such riders.
“I won’t accept an apology for this. That has nothing to do with cycling. What Grivko did is a shame for our beautiful sport,” Kittel, who has 199 thousand followers on Twitter, wrote on the microblogging site.
“I think he should be disqualified not only for this race but for the next as well. It’s a terrible disappointment for cycling,” Kittel later told us in the press conference.
“It’s a shame for the race, it’s a shame for his sponsors and for his team (Astana). And I really don’t understand how he can show this kind of reaction. Of course, it’s a long race. You have lot of emotion. It’s like in the sprints. But it doesn’t give you the right to punch a rider in his face.”
(Astana was quick to serve an apology to Kittel and his team on Twitter)
Both Degenkolb and Kittel took their turns at the commissaries’ car to discuss the situation, but during that time the wind died down and the blowing sand stopped. The gap, which had dropped to 1:20, inched its way back up to five minutes with 75 km to go. But the field knew that with questionable conditions, anything might happen and unwilling to take any further chances, worked continuously brought the time gap down. With about 20 km to go it was at the one minute mark and sinking rapidly.
Quick-Step’s Bob Jungels led the steady chase, as he has every stage, supported by the other sprinters’ teams. Dowsett was the first to be caught at the six km marker, followed by Vliegen, with the remaining two hanging on grimly until 3.2km.
The closing kilometres featured a rolling road through the hills, and a tunnel. Dimension Data came out of the tunnel in the lead, but spent much time looking back to find Cavendish.
Quick-Step took over the front but things didn’t work out for them this time. Cavendish never did reappear to be in the mix, but teammate Janse van Rensburg took his place at the front and opening the sprint. Degenkolb came up on his left side, legs churning furiously, and passed the South African to take the win.