Tadej Pogacar won a thrilling Stage 3 of the UAE Tour at the summit of Jebel Hafeet to retain his lead on Tuesday.
The UAE Team Emirates rider sat on the wheel of defending champion Adam Yates in the last four kilometres of the mountain climb before pouncing on the Ineos Grenadiers British rider at the 400m mark.
Yates, though, almost overhauled Pogacar on the line and the pair finished on the same time of 3hrs 58min 35sec.
The result stretched Pogacar’s overall lead to 43 seconds over Yates, with Joao Almeida of Deceuncink-QuickStep, who finished sixth in the stage, at 1 minute 03 seconds in third.
“We wanted the win and we got one,” Pogacar said. “It was a really tough day and kind of stressful because there was a small chance of echelons again, but the team did a super job and we stayed in the right spots in the race.
“The guys took me up the climb and set a really good pace and all I had to do was respond to attacks. That was super hard but I’m super happy to win.”
Pogacar stalked Yates for much of the 10.8km final climb – where the pair did battle 12 months ago – the Tour de France champion used the downhill dip in the last 500m to catch Yates off guard and win the dash to the line.
“When the gap grew to Almeida I wanted to keep it,” Pogacar said. “I think that Adam was also thinking the same but in the end it was super important that the gap has grown.
“I knew the sprint, and what I needed to do. I started early and because of the two corners, it’s hard to pass the guy in front so it was an advantage to start the sprint first.
Pogacar and Yates came home in the same time, and they put 48 seconds into Higuita, Emanuel Buchmann, Harm Vanhoucke and Almeida, while Florian Stork and Neilson Powless followed at 54 seconds.
“The race isn’t won yet and we still have four stages,” Pogacar said. “Anything can happen with echelons and one last climb. It’s going to be a hard battle until the end.”