We’ve just finished stage 3 of the UAE Tour and already things are proceeding with much the same degree of controlled chaos as in the calendar, last year, before the winter break. Stage one saw Team Alpecin-Fenix’s Mathieu van der Poel take the win on the wind-swept opening stage before the entire Alpecin-Fenix team were pulled from the peloton due to a positive coronavirus test result from one of their staff members. What remained was a feeling akin to something of false start but, nevertheless, the race proceeded as normally as it could.
Filippo Ganna, time trial specialist, took the win on stage two (a time trial, unsurprisingly) with a time of 13:56, far ahead of anyone else on the course. Second placed rider Stefan Bissegger came in a whole 14 seconds behind the winner. One event that stuck out and demanded headlines was the bizarre crash that befell 19-year-old Italian rider Antonio Tiberi right as he approached – and crossed – the finish line. The young debutant appeared to be travelling in a completely straight line as he approached the finish point before, inexplicably, totally losing control of the bike and crashing to the ground, sliding several meters over the line and sustaining considerable damage. He must have been on to complete the trial in a considerable time as, even with the crash, he still managed to place 19th. Unfortunately, he has since had to withdraw from the Tour due to his injuries.
Chris Froome has made a slow start to his return following a career-threatening crash in 2019. He placed 84th on stage one, more than 8 minutes behind the leading group, and 83rd on the time trial in stage two. Slow progress is still progress though, he says. Speaking to the Guardian before stage three, Froome said “I’ve definitely found it hard coming back to racing after winter. I spent a lot of time focusing on the off-bike aspect, completing my rehab, but I’ve obviously got a long way to go still in terms of race condition and getting ready for the season." Froome speaks, also, of competing until he is 40, in pursuit of that elusive record fifth Tour de France. He finished stage three in 40th position.
The Tour only began three days ago and already we have seen positive Covid tests, spectacular crashes and crisp, technical, fast-paced racing. The annual calendar appears to be off to a positive start, with many more twists and turns to come, we’re sure.