DUBAI (VN) — There was polemic blowing in the desert winds Wednesday as Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) powered to a confidence-boosting victory in the opening stage of the Dubai Tour.
Three-time world champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) seethed over the start order that he claimed opened the door for Phinney to claim victory and take the pole position on GC going into three road stages.
Martin was livid that he was forced to start last, though Phinney was allowed to race in the first wave of riders. Phinney was the 25th rider out of the gate, posting an early time of 12:03 that would stand for the win, while Martin started nearly two hours later.
Martin said gusting winds proved a deciding factor, causing him to bleed 22 seconds to Phinney on the flat, wide-open straights of the urban jungle in central Dubai after the wind picked up in the afternoon.
“I couldn’t defend my chances. I had the power, but the wind was a deciding factor,” Martin told Belgian journalists after the race. “I asked the organizers to start in the first block, but the said no, they wanted me as world champion to start last. I said, ‘OK, that’s not a problem, but it should be the same for all the big favorites.’”
BMC sport director Max Sciandri told VeloNews that organizers had requested that Phinney start in the final group of riders with Martin, but he pressed his case, and the team was allowed to slot Phinney into the first wave. BMC put Steve Cummings out on the course ahead of Phinney as a marker, and the British rider ended up second in the stage, 14 seconds slower.
“Initially, I decided to go early because the wind report said it was going to build in the afternoon. When I looked today, the forecast said the wind wasn’t going to change,” Phinney said. “I hope it was the same conditions for everyone. You want to have everyone on the same start time, but it’s difficult with 125 riders. He had to start last because he’s world champion, but he wanted to go out in the first block.”
One BMC staffer said the wind did not change during the race, but Martin certainly thought otherwise.
The dust-up couldn’t take the luster off the victory for Phinney, however. The win marks the first time Phinney has beaten arch rival Martin in a head-to-head match up against the clock, even if they didn’t start in the same block of riders.
“It means a lot,” Phinney said. “I’ve been thinking about this race since the route was announced in December. I knew there would be some big names here, but I mostly focused on Tony. He doesn’t take any time trial lightly. I was pretty nervous he was going to beat me there in the end. I am overjoyed and super relieved.”
Phinney was doing his best to play it cool, sitting calmly in the “hot seat,” watching rider after rider fall short of his time of 12:03 in the 9.9-kilometer time trial at the inaugural Dubai Tour.
When the screen showed Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) 25 seconds off the mark, Phinney didn’t flinch. When the TV flashed the Martin’s splits, crossing the line 22 seconds slower, Phinney couldn’t hold back his emotion. He embraced team personnel, celebrating his biggest time trial win since stage 1 of the 2012 Giro d’Italia.
Sure, it might be February, and it might be a race in faraway United Arab Emirates, but for Phinney, it marked a coming of age.
“For sure it’s a big confidence-booster,” Phinney said. “I came in here knowing what I could do, and I exceeded my expectations.”
Phinney said he’s targeted a trio of early season time trials. The first came at his season debut at the Tour de San Luis in Argentina, where he was second after struggling with gearing. With the win in his pocket in Dubai, he’ll next go after another time trial at the Tour Méditeranéen in France later this month.
Phinney is now poised to win the first stage race of his professional career. With two sprint stages and one slightly hilly stage on tap, and teammate Cummings protecting his flank in second, his closest rival is third-place Lasse Norman Hansen (Garmin-Sharp), the Danish rookie who posted an impressive ride at 16 seconds off the pace. Hansen also started late, and managed to finish ahead of Cancellara and Martin.
“We came here to win the whole race. We’ll see if I can do that,” Phinney said. “We have some strong competition. I am excited. It’s a short race, but an intense race. … It’s a cliché, but we’ll take it day by day.”
Those winds that so irritated Martin could turn into his ally in the coming three days. Crosswinds across the desert flats become even trickier as they whip through the concrete canyons of Dubai’s skyscrapers.
Omega Pharma will be racing to set up Mark Cavendish for the sprints, but if the team sees an opening, it will certainly press to drive echelons, not only to attack Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) and the other sprinters, but to try and catch out Phinney, a talented classics rider in his own right.
And time bonuses could come into play, at the finish-line and intermediate sprints (3, 2, 1 seconds at the line; 1 second at the intermediate sprint).
As Phinney admitted, it would be wrong to say the Dubai Tour is already over.