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The mountaintop finale in the 107km third stage from Hazza bin Zayed Stadium to Jebel Hafeet shook things up expected.
Longo Borghini and Trek Segafredo teammate Gaia Realini pulled clear on the steepest ramps, and worked together to the line.
“This is just an amazing feeling because this is the way you always dream to win on top of a mountain with your teammate,” said Longo Borghini after the stage. “And to me it means a lot because Gaia is such a young talent and I really want to have her on my side in the next years to see her grow as a rider and as a person. She’s just a very strong climber and I’m looking forward to see her climbing up the World Tour rankings.”
Asked how the pair decided which of them would take the win, Longo Borghini explained: “First I said ‘OK, Gaia takes win and I take jersey’ and then the sport director of course did some calculations and we said okay it’s better if Elisa takes the jersey and the victory and we give Gaia an opportunity the next time and Gaia was like, ‘I really want you to win this race.’”
Longo Borghini took the win, with the promising 21-year-old Realini taking a well-deserved second. The chase crossed the line more than one minute in arrears, with Silvio Persico (UAE Team ADQ) leading the way.
Trek-Segafredo does the homework
Longo Borghini spent much of the winter doing warm weather training as well as a block of time at altitude just before this race. She also explained that she had watched the same stage from the men’s race “and I knew that in case of sprint you to be the first one on the left hand corner but in this case, we didn’t need it,” she said.
“I was looking on YouTube and I was doing some research and watching the men’s race is always good insights. So yeah, we knew quite about quite a lot about it and also our sport director Paolo Slongo knew it before because he was here with the with the men’s so we were really good updated about it.”
New rider to Trek-Segafredo, Realini, who moves into the white jersey, was overjoyed with the result: “For me this is the first race in the big team, this team, and for me to arrive in second position ‘woah, it’s a good day, it’s impossible for me, it’s incredible,” She said.
“For me, my goal in the future is to help Elisa in other races, on the climbs, and Elisa will help me on the climbs as well.”
How it unfolded: Big changes in the GC
From the flag drop the pair of Iris Monticolo of Top Girls Fassa Bortolo and Lara Crestanello of Bepink were first to attack and get a gap which grew to two minutes at one stage. Later, as Nina Kessler and Agnieszka Skalniak-Sojka (Canyon//SRAM) went for the remaining points the pair also broke away, taking Giorgia Bariani of Top Girls Fassa Bortolo with them and eventually joining the original pair.
It might have been expected for the peloton to let the breakaway stay out in front until the approach to the climb but it wasn’t to be. As the direction changed and the wind picked up with 59 km to go there was an injection of pace from Team DSM and FDJ Suez’s Marta Cavalli found herself distanced again.
The five leaders were caught just a few kilometres later as, at the other end of the peloton, Cavalli’s teammates from the front group were ordered to drop back to help their leader.
Despite the efforts of her teammates the gap continued to grow and it was game over for the Italian, who went into the stage as a favourite for the win.
At 35km to go, as the pace set mainly by Team DSM continued, another pre-race favourite, Movistar’s Liane Lippert also found herself distanced and her teammates were called back to help the German national champion.
On the approach back towards Al Ain the peloton split yet again with a large group of riders losing contact with the front but they regained contact shortly after. Meanwhile the Lippert group were struggling to close the gap which had increased to 40 seconds while Cavalli’s race was all but over at 2’05”.
At the intermediate sprint Chiara Consonni of UAE Team ADQ took the maximum points but Skalniak-Sójka took second keeping her black jersey safe.
At the bottom of the climb the gap back to Lippert was close to one minute while the Cavalli group had gone out to three minutes meaning both riders were out of contention.
It was Kristen Faulkner of Team Jayco-Alula who led into the bottom of the climb as the sprinters started to go backwards straight away.
Two kilometres into the climb Faulkner continued to set the pace at the front of a select group of riders including Longo Borghini, Realini, Pffeifer Georgi and Esmee Pepperkamp of Team DSM, Soraya Palladin of Canyon//SRAM), Mikayla Harvey and Silvia Persico of UAE Team ADQ, and Anna Shackley of SD Worx.
Although Faulkner set a fierce tempo early on she would fade away just a few kilometres later, leaving it up to the Trek pair to keep the pace high in order to ensure that the dropped riders could not come back to the front.
With 6.3km to go Longo Borghini attacked with only Pepperkamp and Realini able to stay on her wheel as Shackley dropped back despite her efforts.
A few kilometres later Realini and Longo Borghini’s pace became too much for Pepeprkamp and the Trek pair were alone with 4.9km left of the climb.
Behind, Pepperkamp was fighting to keep a gap between herself and a chasing group of Harvey, Persico, and Shackley but would eventually be caught and passed by the trio.
Meanwhile, at the front Longo Borghini and Realini discussed which of them would win the stage and eventually crossed the line with their hands held aloft and Longo Borghini’s wheel just inching ahead of her teammate.
With Persico rounding off the podium and the rest of the chasers trickling across the line and Lippert finishing 2’25” back having made up significant ground on the climb.
Longo Borghini’s win sends her into the race lead, seven seconds ahead of Realini and 1’18” ahead of Perisco.
The race’s headline sprinters, Lorena Wiebes (Team DSM) and Charlotte Kool crossed the line much later than the Trek pair but made the time cut and will be ready to go head-to-head once again on stage four. Wiebes, having lost the leader’s jersey to Longo Borghini, now wears the green sprint jersey.
Results powered by FirstCycling.com