It may only be the start of the 2017 season, but we are already inundated with some spectacular racing. As the races down under come to a close, we begin to move towards the Middle East, finally getting to see the battles between sprinters vying for early season form. As well as witnessing the sprinters excel, we have also seen the domestiques finally get their chances for glory in the Herald Sun Tour; this has truly been a spectacular week of racing.
The big man from Germany was unbeatable this week, winning three from four as he went on to wrap up the overall win in one of his favourite races on the calendar. The Dubai Tour is slowly becoming Kittel’s home domain, eight stage wins over the last three years is a record unparalleled by any other sprinter. No one could come close to Kittel’s powerful sprints this week, not even an in form John Degenkolb or wily Mark Cavendish; the only blight on Kittel’s race this week was the left hook he received from an angered Andriy Grivko on stage three.
Taking stage one in dominating fashion, the race was all but done and dusted within the opening day. Kittel was clearly more powerful than the rest and they knew it; maybe that was the reason fro Grivko’s ill timed punch… Van Rensburg and Degenkolb demonstrated some early season form, but without Kittel contesting for the win on stage three, it was hard to gauge how fast they really were. By stage five all the other sprinters had admitted defeat, this was Kittel’s desert and he seamlessly cruised to a third stage victory and the overall win.
With the Tour of Qatar cancelled for 2017, Kittel is going to have to turn his attention to the hillier Tour of Oman, no doubt he will be contesting the flat stages there, he is rightfully the king of the desert for 2017.
Having spent the majority of last year recovering from his Giro D’italia exploits, it was a welcome sight to see Jungels return to an excellent bout of form this week. Kilometre after kilometre Jungels lead the peloton across the barren deserts of Dubai, and not just for one stage but all four! Joining the head of the peloton with 100km to go, Jungels would control the breakaway, teasing it, knowing that he had enough energy in the tank to close the gap. What sets Jungels apart from all the other domestiques this week was his ability to continuously pound out a rhythm at the head of the peloton; from 100km to the last few metres of the stage, he laid everything out on the road for his team.
Instrumental in Kittel’s three stage wins, he made up the engine of the Quick Step team that dominated and controlled the whole race. Undoubtedly building some form for upcoming races in the early half of the season, the other riders are going to have to watch out for the strength of Jungels. After driving pelotons across wind swept deserts in the early part of the season, he’s going to deal well with the pain of the Italian Alps come the Giro in May. Keep your eyes on Bob Jungels, he is certainly a talent for the future…
Not often do domestiques get their own personal chances at glory, rather having to settle for a share of the spoils given by their team leaders. But that was not the case for Luke Rowe this week, using stage two of the Herald Sun Tour to claim his second win as a professional cyclist. A stand out rider in the spring classics, Rowe’s talents lie with driving the peloton over tough cobbles and gravelly terrain; so for him to launch a mountainous attack was something quite unexpected and out of the blue. Nevertheless he made it his mission to join the days breakaway and by the final climb he found himself out front, all alone with only the searing Australian sun for company.
There was commotion behind as race leader Damien Howson punctured and Sky, looking to capatalise on the misfortune, accelerated with Chris Froome up the road. Rowe commented on what he heard from behind, “It sounded quite chaotic. I am not exactly sure what happened but I know Damien was behind at one point and I heard over the radio at one point, ‘stop riding’.” Having been assured Howson had safely rejoined the group, Rowe carried on solo to the line, winning in emphatic fashion by 33 seconds over second place Connor Dunne of Aqua Blue Sport.
After claiming a victory in the Herald Sun Tour, Rowe will likely assume his regular duties as the Team SKY workhorse; expect to see him gunning for personal glory in the spring classics however, these are the races that the young Welshman really does excel at.
This is a week of domestique recognition, firstly Luke Rowe getting only his second professional victory, and then Damien Howson claiming his maiden professional win, and in his home race as well; it was as if the stars were aligned for the workhorses of the peloton over the past seven days. Undoubtedly one of my favourite riders in the pro peloton, Howson brings buckets of charm and class, as well as an engine unparalled by many other riders; only Ian Stannard sufficient for comparison.
After finding himself in front of the peloton with diminutive Frenchman Kenny elisonde on the final climb of stage one, it was all beginning to fall into place for the Aussie. Regularly the rider trusted to bring back such an escape, he was now the one creating it and his fellow teammates did everything they could to stunt the chase effort and give their domestique veteran the win he so rightfully deserved. Distancing Elissonde in the final kilometre, Howson then cruised to victory, soloing over the line and lifting his arms aloft, “It was a dream scenario to have enough time coming through the finish, in the last kay, [with a] nice gap, thinking what salute to do,”.
With some world class climbers behind, including the likes of Chris Froome, this was undoubtedly a special win for Howson. He spent the rest of the race being protected by his Orica teammates, even climbing superstar Esteban Chaves giving everything he could to keep Howson in the leader’s jersey. Only a slight hiccup on stage two put Howson’s overall victory into question, but after that it was plain sailing for the Aussie. Whilst we may not see Howson pull off another victory of this calibre, we will certainly see him leading many a peloton over the coming season.
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