JEBEL JAIS, United Arab Emirates (VN) — It’s a scene that’s often repeated in pro cycling: The charging peloton catches a lone breakaway rider agonizingly close to the finish line. The scenario is disappointing for both fans and the rider. Who wouldn’t want the breakaway rider to win?
American Joey Rosskopf showed no signs of a letdown after his breakaway effort fell just short during Friday’s queen stage of the UAE Tour, which finished up the Jebel Jais climb. Rosskopf was caught just two kilometers from the finish line after dropping his four breakaway companions on the 20km ascent.
“I actually feel really good to be the last guy standing from that break,” Rosskopft told VeloNews after the stage. “It feels really nice to get involved in the race after quite a few days of sitting in the group and waiting for the sprint. It’s nice to be involved.”
The 175km penultimate stage of the race started in Ajman, a bedroom community for Dubai located north of the city. The mostly flat course concluded with the hulking 20km climb up Jebel Jais, which at 6,345 feet is the tallest mountain in the United Arab Emirates. While long, the climb lacked any steep ramps and maintained a steady five-percent highway grade from bottom to top.
Swirling winds and blowing sand caused havoc in the group from the gun, sending riders tumbling to the tarmac on several occasions. Pre-race favorite Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) was one casualty; Dumoulin remounted his bicycle and eventually finished second on the stage.
Rosskopf’s CCC director Jackson Stewart said the team’s plan was to send a rider up the road, guessing that the day’s terrain might lure other WorldTour riders to attack. Thus far, every breakaway at this year’s UAE Tour has been comprised of riders from Pro Continental teams Gazprom and Novo Nordisk.
After Australian rider Adam Hansen surged ahead of the peloton on a solo move, Rosskopf bridged. He attacked alongside Marcel Sieberg and Jan Tratnik (Bahrain-Merida), Michael Albasini (Mitchelton-Scott), and Will Clarke (Trek-Segafredo).
“Joey’s a great breakaway rider. You can really put him anywhere,” Stewart said. “He’s won the Tour of Limousin and he’s on our worlds time trial squad. He can ride in a breakaway.”
Throughout the week of racing, the breakaways have rarely pulled out greater than five minutes’ advantage. Rosskopf’s move, however, quickly drew the lead out to more than six minutes on the flat and fast roads. Behind, the main field was split in two by a crash. CCC management could not speak with Rosskopf — his team radio was broken.
The breakaway’s advantage was greater than seven minutes as the five reached the lowest slopes of Jebel Jais. However, race leader Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) had ordered his team to whip up the pace. Sieberg swung off after a long pull, and Hansen dropped the pace with 15km to go. That’s when Tratnik attacked and pulled out a small gap on Rosskopf and Clarke.
“Everyone I was with was playing a game which wasn’t very motivating because we were killing time,” Rosskopf said. “The fastest way to go up a climb like that is in a group, and it was hard to decide whether to keep going or ride on my own.”
Rosskopf pulled back Tratnik, and then accelerated to drop both riders. He set out solo with 10km remaining. Behind, domestiques from Sunweb and Jumbo-Visma had narrowed Rosskopf’s advantage down to under two minutes. Yet the time gap stalled at 1:30 as Rosskopf increased his speed on the climb’s gradual slopes.
Thick fog and gusting winds obscured the summit of the climb. When Rosskopf passed by a banner for 4km to go, a stiff headwind blew in his face. Rosskopf said it felt like hitting a wall.
“The pedaling didn’t feel as smooth and it started to take longer to cover each kilometer,” Rosskopf said. “You start counting down in your head how you’re going to gauge the effort.”
Rosskopf said he felt no shame as the peloton roared past him. On this type of stage, domestiques like him often ride in the peloton and simply see how long they can hold the pace until they fall back. Friday’s attack showed Rosskopf that he had the legs to almost make it stick.
“Getting dropped is what we would expect on a 20km climb,” Rosskopf said. “I was able to put in a good effort like that and show myself I could do it and not just get dropped.”