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Reliable Kangert takes advantage of a rare chance to lead

GC stars tip their caps to Tanel Kangert, who sheds his normal label as a domestique to claim the third stage of the Abu Dhabi Tour — and the race lead

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JABEL HAFEET, U.A.E. (VN) — Vincenzo Nibali, Alberto Contador, and Nicolas Roche, all among cycling’s most recognizable names, applauded Tanel Kangert (Astana) on Saturday. The Estonian won stage 3 of the Abu Dhabi Tour and paved the way for the overall win Sunday.

It is not every day in cycling that the helper becomes the helped. Astana star Vincenzo Nibali made sure that Kangert achieved one of his career’s biggest wins. He marked a group with Contador (Tinkoff) while Kangert took care of Roche (Sky).

“On many occasions, he’s dug deep to help me win and helped me win some of my biggest victories, including the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France,” said Nibali.

“This Abu Dhabi win means a lot for Tanel and we’re happy that he won, that the Astana team won too. This victory and my good performance is a kind of farewell gift for me, too.”

Nibali spoke leaning over his handlebars at the race finish, a 11-kilometer climb to 1025 meters near the border with Oman. He will leave team Astana, and Kangert, to lead the Bahrain – Merida team in 2017.

Saturday’s stage could have been his occasion to sign off with a win. It could have also been an occasion for Roche, who leaves Sky to join BMC. Or Contador, who will lead Trek – Segafredo in 2017. A rider that typically serves as a domestique, or a “gregario” as Nibali says in Italian, carried the torch instead.

“If you look at some of my interviews, I said that the favorites were Nibali, [Ben] Hermans, and also Kangert,” Contador said. “He’s very skinny and the final was a true climb.”

The Astana journeyman rode his first two years, 2008 and 2009, with French team Ag2r. Since 2011, the 29-year-old has been flying the light blue colors of Astana.

Time and time again, he has worked for Nibali or Fabio Aru in the high mountains of the grand tours. Today, he attacked with Roche with around six kilometers remaining and with 3.2km left, he cracked his partner to ride solo.

“Obviously it’s not a win, but you know I said to Tanel this morning that I thought that he looked like he was fit enough to win and I’m happy for Tanel,” Roche explained. “He’s a good friend of mine and we were together in Ag2r. And it was fair play to him to get that win.”

Kangert’s biggest career wins have been a stage in the Tour de Suisse and this spring, two in the Giro del Trentino.

“I have to thank Astana, I had the liberty to do what I wanted to,” Kangert said. “The team told me I’d be riding for the GC. Sometimes I’ve had my own chances, but it didn’t work out. Like two years ago in the Vuelta, when I just didn’t have the legs and I was sick.”