DUBAI (VN) — He ultimately settled for second overall, but Magnus Cort Nielsen found himself inside the top 10 on every stage of the five-day Dubai Tour.
The Astana newcomer would have preferred the top stop of the podium, but he couldn’t deny his satisfaction to be racing so well this early in 2018. A training crash left Cort Nielsen nursing a fractured collarbone just two months ago.
“With the collarbone I broke in December, I didn’t really know where I stood,” the 25-year-old Dane told VeloNews this week at the Dubai Tour. “Also, [I’m on a] new team. In training camp in January, normally you can compare and see, ‘How is my shape?’ with the other riders. Here, it’s a new group of riders, so I could not compare that way. I could only compare on my own feelings. I was feeling okay training coming into here, but yeah, it’s definitely good and I’m actually surprised that it’s this good when I look back and see a December where I did little training.”
Cort Nielsen joined Astana this past winter after three years with GreenEdge. He enjoyed some success there, most notably winning two stages at the 2016 Vuelta a España, but decided to leave to seek better opportunities elsewhere. He says he left on good terms with the Australian outfit, considering how upfront the team was about its long-term goals.
“With Orica-Scott, they were changing more towards GC. They told me that in the future there would be less chances if I stayed,” he said. “I think this is a really good team for me, Astana. I like it. Good group of riders, and we are good together. I enjoy the dinners.
Living with his teammates and benefiting from a new trainer, Cort Nielsen looks stronger than ever in the early goings this year. His versatility was on full display this week at Dubai.
He powered to second place in a bunch gallop on stage one, and without much of a lead-out because Astana also gave Italian youngster Riccardo Minali a shot to ride for his own chances.
Three days later, Cort Nielsen climbed to another runner-up result on the challenging uphill finish at Hatta Dam. As fast as he is in the pure sprints, Cort Nielsen may be even better suited to lumpier finales. He said after the near miss that he had the strength to win.
“I was a little bit out of position. Not crazy bad, otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten second, but I did not have the perfect position coming into this climb, unfortunately,” he said. “We did everything we could to make it hard on the climbs, which looks like helped, but also it meant that I didn’t have anyone to position me for the final. So we won something by hurting the quick guys on the climbs a little bit earlier, but then I was, unfortunately, alone for the final.”
After his pair of runner-up stage results, Cort Nielsen left Dubai with one more, in the overall classification, and also the young riders’ jersey. A GC win or a stage victory would have been nice, but Cort Nielsen isn’t complaining.
“It’s a really good way to start the season,” he said. “I have to be very happy.”
Next on the docket for Cort Nielsen is this week’s Tour of Oman. He’ll hope to continue his hot start to 2018 in the Middle East before heading back to Europe for the real meat of his season: The spring classics.
To this point in his career, Cort Nielsen has yet to land one obvious marquee result in the classics. The skillset is there, however, and so are the performances in some of the smaller one-days. He won last year’s Clasica de Almeria in February, and nearly snagged his first WorldTour one-day victory last July at the RideLondon Classic.
That potential is a good match for Astana. The team has seen several of its notable stars jump ship in recent years, with Vincenzo Nibali heading to Bahrain-Merida for 2017 and Fabio Aru joining UAE Team Emirates this year. Cort Nielsen is part of the impressive young core that the team hopes can step up in coming seasons. What’s more, his strength in the sprints and potential for the classics represent new opportunities for a team that has mostly focused on GC riders in recent years.
The top-end speed and classics skillset make the year’s first monument an obvious early target for Cort Nielsen.
“I’ll do the cobbled classics, but San Remo is maybe the classic that suits me the best,” he said just after the Hatta Dam climb in Dubai. “I think a result like this, today, even though we finished straight on the top and not back down again, shows that I am also able to be there in San Remo.”
Astana will hope Cort Nielsen’s assessment is correct. The Dane has shown plenty of prowess already, but if he can continue to develop his many talents, he’ll give the Kazakh outfit a powerful card to play in races all over the calendar.