Rui Costa (UAE-Team Emirates) won the opening stage of the inaugural Saudi Tour, Tuesday.
The stage into Jaww was sparked into life by fierce crosswinds and a late breakaway, but the result came down to a mass uphill sprint that saw Costa power to victory, with Heinrich Haussler (Bahrain-McLaren) second and Nacer Bouhanni (Arkea-Samsic) third.
“It’s very important for me to get this win. I knew I had to attack, the final was very explosive and very complicated towards the end,” said Costa.
The 2020 Saudi Tour is the first edition of the second-tier race, formed as a part of the nation’s bid to promote itself through sport.
Bahrain-McLaren dominated much of the stage. With 70 kilometers to go, the Bahraini team and NTT Pro Cycling split the race in the fierce winds whipping across the wide, exposed roads, with several echelons forming. The front group included around five Bahrain-McLaren riders, with their sprinter Mark Cavendish among them, whereas rival fastman Bouhanni was caught out in the group behind.
The two groups came back together on 20 kilometers and shortly after, four riders escaped – Haussler, Andreas Kron (Riwal Readynez), Bert de Backer (B&B), and Evaldas Siskevicius (Delko Marseille). With Haussler in the break, the pressure was off Bahrain-McLaren to chase who also had the added option of Cavendish should it come to a sprint.
As the break hit the 500-meter climb to the line, the peloton were just seconds behind them.
Haussler made his move first and was able to distance his fellow escapees before Kron countered and drew level.
Behind them, Costa led the charging peloton up the climb. The Portuguese rider opened his sprint with 300 meters to go and bridged onto Haussler’s wheel, slingshotted off the back of it, and hit the front with 50 meters to go. Once Costa had sight of the line, there was no stopping him as he powered to an impressive victory.
“I knew where I had to attack,” he said. “I knew that 300 meters, I had to be there before the hairpin on the climb, and I felt good so it was something I was able to do.”
The five-stage race resumes tomorrow with the first of three rolling, hilly stages that could suit sprinters or a breakaway before the race wraps up Saturday with a flat stage into Al Masnak.
Stage 1 results:
- Rui Costa (UAE-Team Emirates): 3:52:12
- Heinrich Haussler (Bahrain-McLaren): S.T
- Nacer Bouhanni (Arkea-Samsic): S.T
GC after stage 1
- Rui Costa (UAE-Team Emirates): 3:52:02
- Heinrich Haussler (Bahrain-McLaren): +0:00:01
- Nacer Bouhanni (Arkea-Samsic): +0:00:06