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JEBEL HAFEET, United Arab Emirates (VN) — The first edition of the Abu Dhabi Tour had it all on the 11-kilometer summit finish of Saturday’s stage 3: attacks from stars, a solo bid for glory, and a last-minute twist.
Colombian Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge) won the stage up the barren Jebel Hafeet climb. In doing so, he took the red jersey, which he is likely to keep to win the overall title with only one flat stage left to race, Sunday’s 110km, 20-lap trip on the Yas Marina Formula One track.
“It’ll be my first classification win as a professional,” 25-year-old Chaves said. “It’s big, every win that I get is big.”
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) attacked. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), winner of all three grand tours, attacked. And Fabio Aru, Nibali’s Astana teammate and recent Vuelta a España victor, tried to get clear as well.
In the end it was Chaves who raced away from the other GC contenders with about 5km to go. He gained up to 25 seconds on his rivals before Dutchman Wout Poels (Sky) began to claw back up to him. As the road descended and then rose again in the final kilometer, Poels caught up and took the lead for the final kick.
The race took a twist, however, in the last corner, a left-hander less than 200 meters from the line. Poels appeared to take the corner too quickly, slid, and crashed.
“I f—ed up,” Poels said.
“I knew the corner was tight. In the pre-race meeting, we were talking about it. That’s why I went first into the corner. I knew it was sharp, but not that sharp.”
With Poels down, Chaves had a clear runway towards the stage win, and with it, a potential first overall win as a pro. He won the Tour de l’Avenir as an amateur, but never in his five years as a professional has he won the general classification of a stage race.
“I want to say to Poels sorry for the situation of the race,” Chaves said.
“I didn’t think it was correct to raise my arms in that situation. I passed him and won, but sport’s like this.”
The 5’5″ Colombian won two stages and placed fifth overall in the Vuelta a España in September, marking himself out as a future grand tour star. Now, he’s set to hit an important milestone by taking that first pro GC win.
Poels cooled down after shouting several expletives. After helping Chris Froome win his second Tour de France in July, he had a chance for his own victory. It literally slipped away in the last moment.
“It was a good feeling to drop a climber like Aru. My condition is good,” Poels said.
“In the switchbacks, I had a really good acceleration; I’d sprint for a few seconds, then go slowly. I think I did a perfect climb, but then that last corner … It is what it is, you can’t change anything anymore.”