The glass was definitely half-full for Sam Welsford on Thursday at the UAE Tour as the DSM sprinter was just outpaced by Juan Sebastian Molano and Olav Kooij, but came away with his first-ever WorldTour podium nonetheless.
Already a double winner at the Vuelta a San Juan, Welsford, an Australian former team pursuiter, showed he had not lost that form in the UAE Tour when he went on the attack for 90 kilometres on stage 1 as part of the first big echelon of the day.
Welsford’s January success in San Juan was all the more notable given some top sprint names like Fabio Jakobsen (Soudal-QuickStep), Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Fernando Gaviria (Movistar) were taking part.
But while UAE Tour has an even deeper field of sprinters, to judge by his performance at Dubai Harbour the former double Olympic track medalist has clearly stepped up his game to match the challenge.
“It was a very long sprint for me, I had the run coming off Gaviria and followed him into the finish and had the speed, so I just had to commit,” Welsford told a small group of reporters near the line.
“In those situations, it’s millisecond differences, so I made the decision to use his speed and just go,” he said.
“It was a bit longer than I expected to the finish, and I could feel Olav coming up on my left. I didn’t even see Molano, he came up with that much speed.
“But it’s a good start to the three days of sprints we have at UAE, so I’m really excited to keep cracking onto the next one, improve the things we can and hopefully get on that top step.”
Welsford agreed with Kooij’s post-stage analysis that the sprint was by no means a conventional ‘European’ one. The usual much narrower roads and technical approaches of that part of the world were light years away from the multi-lane highways of downtown Dubai, although Welsford found similarities to where he’d recently been racing and winning in Argentina.
“It is similar to San Juan with those big roads and being super-fast,” he said, “that corner with 700 metres to go was a big fight, and then it was a big scrap all the way to the line.”
Fighting a cross-head wind all the way, “Everyone was all over the place, and it was actually quite hard to the finish, and that’s probably why you saw the sprint was so wide and spread out. Everyone was trying to get through at the same time.”
The hell-for-leather, chaotic nature of the sprint perhaps explained the absence of plenty of top names from the top part of the…
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