Dutch sprinting phenomenon Olav Kooij came within a whisker of claiming his first victory of 2023 of the UAE Tour on Thursday but in a fraught, chaotic bunch sprint at Dubai Bay, the young Dutchman was squeezed out on the line by rival Juan Sebastian Molano.
Second was far from a disgrace in bunch sprints that, as Kooij pointed out afterwards, “are completely different to any other” due both to the exceptionally high-quality field, the ultra-easy terrain on most of the stage, and the never-ending succession of broad, flat avenues leading to the finish.
And unlike on Monday’s echelon-fest, there was barely any wind, either.
Plenty of the top name fast-men were swamped or caught out and did not even make into the top 10 of Thursday’s first full bunch sprint of the race.
But despite his considerable success in comparison, in sprinting only one result really counts, and Kooij insisted he would try and go one better than his second place at Dubai Bay as soon as possible.
“It was such an easy day and on these roads, that usually ends with quite a hectic sprint,” the Jumbo-Visma rider told a small group of reporters afterwards, “There was a corner at 800 metres to go and that’s a benchmark to be in a good position.
“I had to search for a wheel, and I got on Sam Welsford’s wheel and thought I was making up ground slowly. But then Molano got past me.”
Kooij agreed that the bunch sprints in UAE are radically different to Europe.
“You have so much space, so timing is crucial. It’s always a bit of a gamble,” he said.
“Things change so fast on a sprint like this that you need to adapt and react and sometimes you think too much and then it’s too late. You really need to trust your feelings as well.”
In a sprint with so many riders spread across the line, Kooij said that he had sensed Welsford was next to him, but had no idea that Molano was there as well.
“I guess it’s different as well because so many lead-out teams are ahead as well on a finish like this. Really you can’t compare UAE sprints to any other race. [Later in the season] the guys are on different programs and not everybody is in the same Grand Tour.”
Still, Kooij’s form is clearly good and if the quest for his 16th victory as a pro has to continue, he’s got another two opportunities to make it count. And he also knows the Abu Dhabi Breakwater finish on Saturday from 2022, where he claimed fourth behind Mark Cavendish.
“I started this year at Valencia, but it’s not really a sprinter’s kind of…
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