Olav Kooij pips Tim Merlier in photo finish to win Stage 5 of UAE Tour

UAE Team Emirates' Jay Vine maintains GC lead with teammate Brandon McNulty in third

Team Visma-Lease a Bike's Dutch cyclist Olav Kooij celebrates after winning the fifth stage of the UAE Tour. AFP
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Olav Kooij clinched Stage 5 in a thrilling sprint to the finishing line to deny Tim Merlier back-to-back and a third win in five days at the UAE Tour on Friday.

The Dutch rider from Visma-Lease A Bike reversed the previous day’s result over the Belgian rider in a photo finish to the 182-kilometre Fujairah stage from Al Aqah to Umm Al Quwain.

Kooij sprinted off the wheel of Mark Cavendish (Astana Qazaqstan), who had a strong lead-out from Michael Morkov but was unable to take it to the line, leaving Kooij to surge past the Manxman on the right-hand side of the road.

Kooij’s closest challengers initially appeared to be Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and Sam Welsford (Bora-Hansgrohe) until winner of the first and fourth stages, Merlier, came out from further down the pack and into the open road on the left.

The Soudal Quick-Step rider threw everything at it in a tight finish with neither rider totally sure who had won.

“I didn't know that I was the winner so I was very happy to be declared the winner from the photo finish,” Kooij, 22, said soon after result was announced.

“After the first two sprints I got better but you need everything right to win. I tried to not get too much wind in the finale and a good position at the last roundabout.

“I thought I was maybe a bit far but I managed to follow Mark Cavendish on the right. Luckily there was a little gap and I could pass everyone.

“My stage win at Paris-Nice last year was very nice but the field of sprinters here is very strong so it makes it another very nice one. Now I'm excited to see what I will be able to do at my first Grand Tour, the Giro d'Italia, after this good start of the season.”

Welsford joined them on the podium, while the likes of Dylan Groenewegen (Jayco-AlUla) and Fabio Jakobsen (dsm-firmenich-PostNL) had to settle for minor places. Cavendish slipped outside the top 10, from which more big names were absent, including: Sam Bennett (Decathlon-AG2R), Fernando Gaviria (Movistar), Sebastián Molano (UAE Team Emirates) and Pascal Ackermann (Israel-Premier Tech).

UAE Team Emirates’ Jay Vine finished safely in the bunch – and even did a stint at the front in the finale – to retain the red jersey as overall leader, with the only general classification (GC) change being Lennert Van Eetvelt (Lotto Dstny) hopping into the top 10 via the breakaway.

“I came to the UAE Tour with a lot of training in the legs. Today it wasn’t super stressful but always something can happen,” Vine said at the post-race conference.

“Passed the last corner, everyone was rushing to the front. I enjoyed being in the lead today even more than yesterday. Riding at the front in the last 10 kilometres is the less scary place and it’s always exciting to race ahead of bunch sprints.

“I was trying to keep myself safe and me being safe, it also helped our two riders set to go for the sprint. It’s good to be in the red jersey for another day.”

Stage 5 results:

1. Olav Kooij (NED) Team Visma Lease a Bike, 4hrs 8min 38sec

2. Tim Merlier (BEL) Soudal Quick-Step, st

3. Sam Welsford (AUS) Bora – Hansgrohe, st

General Classification:

1. Jay Vine (AUS) UAE Team Emirates

2. Ben O'Connor (AUS) Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale Team, at 11sec

3. Brandon McNulty (USA) UAE Team Emirates, at 13sec

Updated: February 23, 2024, 9:23 PM