Mathias Vacek celebrated his first World Tour success by taking the penultimate stage six of the UAE Tour on Friday.
The teenage Czech rider of Gazprom-RusVelo crossed the finishing line from the breakaway group ahead of Paul Lapeira of AG2R Citroen and teammate Dmitry Strakhov as the peloton failed to time catching the attackers up the road over the 180-kilometre flat stage start and finish at Dubai Expo.
Jasper Philipsen of Alpecin-Fenix, the winner of stages one and five, continued his excellent form finish in sixth place, but it was not the position he had hoped for at the beginning of the day.
“I still can't believe I've won,” Vacek said soon after his victory. “It's amazing, I'm still really young at 19 years old, so this victory means so much to me.
“I thought I'd try to go in the breakaway today and help Dmitry [Strakhov] to keep the black jersey. At 10 kilometres before the finish, I knew we had a one minute and 15 seconds advantage, so then I was fully focused on the sprint.”
Vacek has become the youngest winner of stage UAE Tour. It’s also the first time a stage winner emerged from the breakaway group in the history of this race as well as the previous Dubai and Abu Dhabi Tours.
“I'm feeling a lot of emotions after this win,” Vacek said. “It’s hard to believe it, I’m really happy. The best moment was when, with 10km to go, we realised that we had one and a half minutes [from the peloton], so we could go for the win.
“Everybody in the breakaway pushed very hard. I didn’t even speak with my two teammates, it was just all out.
“I know that I have quite a strong sprint. I’m one of the lead-out guys for Matteo Malucelli. I still need a bit of time to know what kind of rider I can become, but this win might change my career.”
Meanwhile, the UAE Team Emirates star Tadej Pogacar held on to the overall lead for the third day. He leads Italian Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) by four seconds ahead of Saturday's final stage.
“Breakaway riders always say if you don’t try you don’t know, they really tried today,” Pogacar said of Vacek’s performance on the day.
“It’s great. It’s a bit of a surprise but it shows that it can happen if you are smart at the front, which I think they really were today and they were strong too.
“I’m glad to see such a young rider winning a race. For tomorrow, with regards to the climb, Adam Yates and Alexandr Vlasov are the strongest riders but also Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert.
“They showed on Jebel Jais how strong they are with two guys. But I think my team is strong enough to control the race.”
If Pogacar can maintain his lead, he will become the first rider to win the UAE Tour two years in a row in the fourth year of the only WorldTour race in the Middle East.
“Tomorrow is the most exciting day but it will be the hottest day of the whole week. We're ready to defend the jersey and we're not too stressed,” he added.
The seventh and final stage of the race is a gruelling 148km trip that sets off from Al Jahili Fort and finishes at the summit of the Jebel Hafeet in Al Ain.
Results of stage six top six:
1. Mathias Vacek (CZE) Gazprom-RusVelo, in 3-58-10
2. Paul Lapeira (FRA) AG2R-Citroën, at same time
3. Dmitry Strahkov (RUS) Gazprom-RusVelo
4. Alessandro Tonelli (ITA) Bardiani-CSF-Faizane, both at same time
5. Pavel Kochetkov (RUS) Gazprom-RusVelo, at 5s
6. Jasper Philipsen (BEL) Alpecin-Fenix, at 15s
General Classification top six:
1. Tadej Pogacar (SLO) UAE Team Emirates, in 22-18-02
2. Filippo Ganna (ITA) Ineos Grenadiers, at 4s
3. Aleksandr Vlasov (KAZ) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 14s
4. Adam Yates (GBR) Ineos Grenadiers, at 17s
5. Neilson Powless (USA) EF Education-EasyPost, at 25s
6. Joao Almeida (POR) UAE-Team Emirates, at 30s