Soudal–Quick-step's Belgian rider Tim Merlier won the first stage of the UAE Tour on Monday, pipping Caleb Ewan of Lotto Dstny in a thrilling sprint finish.
The two riders finished shoulder to shoulder prompting a 10-minute delay as the race organisers pored over the photo finish in a bid to split them.
They opted against calling a dead heat and gave Merlier, 30, the win by the slimmest of margins.
Mark Cavendish of Astana-Qazaqstan joined them on the podium taking third spot ahead of Jumbo-Visma’s Olav Kooij on a tough day for the riders, who had to overcome tricky crosswinds on the 151-kilometre flat route from the Al Dhafra Fort to Al Mirfa.
Merlier was led by his teammate Bert Van Lerberghe into the final corner but he had Ewan parked on his wheel as he kicked for the line.
Ewan drew level close to the finishing line, but he could not get past Merlier. Cavendish was further back after struggling to find a clear run at the line in their slipstream.
Merlier's teammate and compatriot Remco Evenepoel, who won last year's Vuelta a Espana, is sixth overall thanks to a bonus after finishing eighth on the day.
“I was not sure,” Merlier said afterwards. “I know I did a good jump in the end, and I knew when I started my sprint that it was a good sprint.
“But Caleb was coming from the wheel and you know he's a dangerous guy if he is in the wheel. In the end it was really close.
“It was a hard race. When the race is hard, I’m one of the strongest in the end and I believe I can win. We did a good job as a team, and also for the general classification.”
It was a disappointing start for the UAE Team Emirates in their home race.
With Tadej Pogacar absent, new signings Adam Yates and Jay Vine have allowed pre-race favourite Evenepoel to gain an early advantage.
Tuesday's second of seven stages is a team time-trial over 17.2km up the coast in Khalifa Port.