Soudal-Quick-Step followed up their rider Tim Merlier’s victory in stage one with success in the team time trial on day two of the UAE Tour at Khalifa Port in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.
The Belgian squad was the last team out of the start ramp on the 17.3-kilometre course and they finished on top by edging past EF Education-EasyPost by a second. Ineos Grenadiers was a further two seconds back in third.
Sharing the general classification lead was Luke Plapp of Ineos Grenadiers and Soudal-Quick-Step’s world champion Remco Evenepoel with the same timing, but the former will wear the leader’s red jersey on Wednesday’s stage three.
Nikias Arndt of Bahrain Victorious was third overall.
EF Education-EasyPost squad’s agonising wait for most of the afternoon ended in heartbreak when Soudal-Quick-Step produced the quickest time of the day.
“I didn't realise I'd taken the red Jersey until they read out the results – it was such a close stage,” said Plapp, 22, who now holds the red, white (young rider classification) and black (intermediate sprint) jerseys.
“Team time trials are my favourite discipline in cycling and people don't realise how exciting they can be. It's awesome to be in the red jersey and as a team; we're in a really good spot now coming into the next stages.”
Plapp was full of praise for the performance of his team that included Josh Tarling, 19, and veteran Cameron Wurf, who is also a triathlete.
“The 19-year-old is strongest guy on our team here, I think,” Plapp said. “It's a pleasure to have Josh on our team. He's such a big boy, he's going to be a future Filippo Ganna (five-time world champion), I think.
“And Cam is so experienced, he's been in pro peloton for so long, and he's really good on the TT bike because he can spend up to 180km on it.”
With five stages left, and with the first of the two mountain stages coming up next, the GC can take another twist. Plapp, Evenepoel and Pello Bilbao of Bahrain Victorious are expected to challenge for the red jersey, but riders like Adam Yates of UAE Team Emirates might sense a chance to claw their way back into contention.
“Tomorrow is a mountaintop finish (from Umbrella Beach Al Fujairah to Jebel Jais) and anything can happen," Plapp said. “Then hopefully there'll be a few sprint days before the big showdown on Jebel Hafeet (on the final day).”
Evenepoel, a member of the stage winning team and one of the leading contenders for the GC, said it was an “incredible win”.
“We didn't realise we'd won the stage because we were focused on the time of our closest rivals on GC,” he said.
“Ineos posted a super-quick time, but it's incredible to know we won. We executed our plan perfectly and to win by one second is pretty crazy. It's my first TTT victory, and to get back-to-back wins for our team here is beautiful.”