Tim Merlier of Soudal Quick-Step wins dramatic opening stage of UAE Tour 2024

Belgian's victory came as many of riders involved in huge crash near finish line

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Tim Merlier replicated his 12 feat of months ago by taking the opening stage of the UAE Tour – and a first success of the season in the 2024 WorldTour – on Monday.

The Soudal Quick-Step rider took the chequered flag ahead of Arvid De Kleijn (Tudor Pro Cycling) and Jakub Mareczko (Corratec-Vini Fantini) in a stage marred by a huge crash 200 metres from the finishing line.

Many riders in the peloton were involved in the crash with only 25 of them left to finish in the 143-kilometre stage in Abu Dhabi’s Western region from Al Dhafra Walk to Liwa.

Merlier remained calm amid the chaos. He followed Colombian pair Juan Sebastián Molano (UAE Team Emirates) and Fernando Gaviria (Movistar) before sprinting clear in the final 100 metres to take the win in three hours 9 minutes and 55 seconds.

“A win is always nice but to get my first World Tour win of the season is even nicer,” Merlier said.

“I made the right decision to switch side of the road with 500 meters to go, and I made a good decision there to go alone. At first, I was a bit blocked but Gaviria and Molano went from far out in the headwind.

“I want to win every flat stage of the UAE Tour but it’s not easy because the competition is very high. Almost every top sprinter is here. I’m already happy with one win and it takes the pressure off.”

De Kleijn and Mareczko finished strongly to claim podium spots. Fabio Jakobsen (dsm-firmenich-PostNL) and Sam Welsford (Bora-Hansgrohe) both moved past Gaviria (sixth) and Molano (seventh) but many who were caught in the pile-up would have felt they didn't have a chance for a sprint to the finish.

Mark Cavendish of Astana Qazaqstan managed to avoid the big crash.

“Bert [Van Lerberghe] brought me once again in a good position,” Merlier said later at the post-race conference.

“With one kilometre to go, I found the wheel of Jordi [Warlop] then I found my own space and went my own way. I went a bit too early in the wind but I had to because Gaviria and Molano went from far out.

“I made a mistake in choosing the gear but the finish was far enough to come back. It’s nice to win at the UAE Tour again. Almost all the world’s top sprinters are here, except for Jasper Philipsen and Caleb Ewan, so I’m happy with this win.

Tuesday’s Stage 2, an individual Time Trial that takes place entirely on Al Hudayriyat Island, will be the first test for the general classification contenders.

“In the time trial, I’ll be able to ride my own pace and I will lose the jersey again. On the other hand, I hope to win the points classification again and that would come with another stage win, which is my next target," said Merlier.

“Racing in the sand like here is not my speciality in cyclo-cross but here the sand is soft so I’m fine with it. The heat affects me more. I prefer to race with lower temperatures but with the victory, I’m happy anyway.”

Stage 1 results

1 Tim Merlier (BEL) Soudal Quick-Step, 3hrs 9min 55sec.

2 Arvid De Kleijn (NED) Tudor Pro Cycling, st

3 Jakub Mareckzo (ITA) Team Corratec - Vini Fantini, st

General Classification

1 Tim Merlier (BEL) Soudal Quick-Step.

2 Arvid De Kleijn (NED) Tudor Pro Cycling, 4sec

3 Jakub Mareckzo (ITA) Team Corratec - Vini Fantini, 6sec

Updated: February 20, 2024, 4:58 AM