Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep) sprinted to victory on stage one of the Dubai Tour, narrowly beating Andrea Guardini (Astana) to pull on the first leader’s jersey of the 2015 race.
The Manx Missile launched his sprint very early, after a slightly stunted lead-out, but showed great strength to hold off Guardini and Elia Viviani (Team Sky) on the wide-open final straight.
Viviani had looked in a great position to record his first win for Sky after Andy Fenn’s lead-out, but the strength of Cavendish shone through as he beat Guardini in a photo finish.
It means a second victory of the season for the Manxman, who will pull on the leader’s jersey for the equally sprint-friendly second stage.
Earlier, the pan-flat opening stage saw five riders jump clear early on to form the day’s break, with former Katusha man Vladimir Gusev ensuring Skydive Dubai were represented on home roads.
Giro d’Italia stage winner Enrico Battaglin (Bardiani-CSF) was among the biggest threats in the break, with Rafael Valls (Lampre-Merida), Nicolas Lefrancois (Team Novo Nordisk) and Alessandro Bazzana (UnitedHealthCare) rounding off the quintet.
However, the chances of the five men staying out to contest the stage win were remote as Etixx-QuickStep led the chase and ensured the gap never grew to more than two minutes.
That advantage was quickly halved as Giant-Alpecin also came forward to support the efforts of QuickStep’s Tony Martin.
Careful to ensure the catch was not made too soon, Martin and Thierry Hupond (Giant-Alpecin) did much of the pace setting, while Ian Boswell brought Team Sky forward inside the final 25 kilometres.
With Bernie Eisel barking the instructions at the front of the peloton, it was clear bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint were the target for Team Sky, and the break was soon in their sights despite an injection of pace from Gusev.
More than 20 kilometres remained when the catch was made, with several teams lined out on the front alongside Team Sky.
And the British-based team’s hard work paid off, with Ben Swift led out by Eisel to beat the ever-attacking Manuele Boaro (Tinkoff-Saxo) to the bonus seconds.
On the wide-open roads, the intermediate sprint also served as a reminder of how difficult it was to control the front of the peloton – prompting a flurry of teams to come forward on the penultimate lap.
Martin regained control with five kilometres to go, but the make-up of the other teams around him continued to change as the peloton hit the final 180-degree bend.
Martin’s Etixx-QuickStep team-mates emerged at the front but Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) and Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida) were quick to join them.
Team Sky’s Andy Fenn led the sprint out, with former team-mates Mark Renshaw and Cavendish on his wheel and Viviani behind.
Renshaw may not have expected to be thrust to the front so soon after Fabio Sabatini aborted his effort at the front early, but Cavendish was not to be denied.
The Manx Missile jumped earlier and Guardini just didn’t have the pace to pip him on the line, while Viviani claimed third.
Dubai Tour 2015: stage one – result
1) Mark Cavendish (GBR) – Etixx-QuickStep – 3.25.00hrs
2) Andrea Guardini (ITA) – Astana – ST
3) Elia Viviani (ITA) – Team Sky
4) Alexander Porsev (RUS) – Katusha
5) Juan Jose Lobato (ESP) – Movistar
6) Luka Mezgec (SVN) – Giant-Alpecin
7) Andrea Palini (ITA) – Skydive Dubai
8) Paolo Simon (ITA) – Bardiani-CSF
9) Daniel Oss (ITA) – BMC Racing
10) Martijn Verschoor (NED) – Team Novo Nordisk
1) Mark Cavendish (GBR) – Etixx-QuickStep – 3.24.50hrs
2) Andrea Guardini (ITA) – Astana +4”
3) Elia Viviani (ITA) – Team Sky +6”
4) Ben Swift (GBR) – Team Sky +7”
5) Alessandro Bazzana (ITA) – UnitedHealthCare – ST
6) Manuele Boaro (ITA) – Tinkoff-Saxo +8″
7) Enrico Battaglin (ITA) – Bardiani-CSF – ST
8) Rafael Valls (ESP) – Lampre-Merida +9″
9) Alexander Porsev (RUS) – Katusha +10”
10) Juan Jose Lobato (ESP) – Movistar – ST