The opening stage of the Abu Dhabi Tour will be remembered as much for the excessive heat as it will be for who the day’s victor was, Andrea Guardini (Astana). Tom Boonen (Etixx-Quickstep) placed 2nd in the mass bunch sprint with Daniele Bennati (Tinkoff-Saxo) in 3rd.
While the route was pretty much much pan flat, it was mother nature who would provide the stern test to the riders today with temperatures hitting the upper 40’s centigrade. So severe was the heat that organisers decided to shorten the stage by around 15km. Songezo Jim would brave the heat of the desert roads for our African team and jumped into the early break of the day.
Songezo was joined by 5 other riders and they would push on to a 5 minute lead over the peloton. One by one though, and with still a number of kilometers before the finish, the breakaway riders burnt out under the Arabian sun. Songezo was one of the last 3 surviving escapees before he too had to return to the shelter of the peloton. Songezo would win a bonus second out on the course though which would be enough to later see the South African pull on the best young riders white jersey.
The final breakaway rider returned to the peloton with 30km to go as Rafaa Chtioui (Skydive Dubai) then raced clear. The Tunisian champion did well to pry open a 2 minute gap but being alone against a number of hungry sprinters teams, it just wasn’t going to be his day.
The race came all back together with a kilometer to go and our African team were looking to set up Theo Bos for the sprint. Andy Stauff did a good job in trying to steer Theo to the front but a chaotic finale saw the two lose each others wheels around the final bend. The high point of our day was seeing Songezo awarded the best young rider jersey as he sits in 7th position overall.
Songezo Jim – Rider
It was our plan to get one rider into the breakaway of the day. I managed to jump away with four others, so the team didn’t need to work. It was really hot out there, but I’m happy that could take the white jersey.
Jens Zemke – Head of Performance
The inaugural Abu Dhabi Tour started with a really hot stage. The thermometer showed temperatures of up to 44 degrees. And the riders were feeling it. Even though the stage was shortened, some had cramps. We handed out around 80 bottles to our riders.
It was our plan to ride an active race and were happy to get Songezo into the breakaway. After the second intermediate there was a bit of confusion. Race radio announced that Songezo was caught by the bunch before passing the sprint. In reality he crossed the line ahead of the peloton. He notched 1 second and the white jersey for best young rider. We’re happy about that. Yet the feeling is a bit bittersweet. We wanted to lunch Theo for the sprint. Unfortunately, he punctured within 15 kilometers to go and was only able to fight his way back in the final stages of the race.