Merlier celebrates son's birthday in style
February 1 st 2024 - 17:26 [GMT + 3]
While the day started under the clouds for the start of stage 3, it ended with a bright sunshine and a spectacular finale at the AlUla Camel Cup track. It all started by echelons in the final 20kms splitting the pack apart. It ended with a bunched sprint between just over 30 riders. In these conditions that probably reminded him of his native Belgium, Tim Merlier (Soudal Quick-Step) made the best of his speed to beat Arvid De Kleijn (Tudor Pro Cycling Team) and Casper van Uden (Team DSM-Firmenich PostNL), on the day of his son’s birthday. The overall leader’s Green jersey switches shoulders and goes to van Uden.
Rare enough to be mentioned, it was rather cloudy at the start of stage 3 in front of the AlUla International Airport. Cloudy and cold but that wasn’t too much of a concern for the 124 riders still in the race. On the menu today: 170kms of fairly flat roads and an eventful finish at the AlUla Camel Cup track that the riders and followers would get to visit for the very first time on the event.
3 RIDERS IN THE BREAKAWAY UNDER The CLOUDS
After quite a lot of battling as soon as km0, it took six kilometres for three men to finally break away: Mate (EUS), Tzortzakis (ROI) and Koishi (JCL). At the first intermediate active sprint (km 16), Mate captured the most points (3) ahead of Tzortzakis and Koishi. The gap reached a maximum 4’30” at km 24 before team UNO X Mobility took command of the pack and started chasing.
At the second sprint (km 57) this time won by Tzortzakis, the gap remained 3’35” adrift. The race was then to blow up after a left hand turn and a long descent in a slight crosswind. The pack, led by Movistar and Total Energies, indeed broke up into several groups with the likes of Majka (UAE) and Coquard (COF) stranded behind. Meanwhile, as the battle continued between the different groups, the front three were caught at km 98. The wind not quite blowing hard enough and a change in direction saw the entire peloton bunch up together again.
THE SAME 2 IN THE LEAD
And exactly when the situation calmed down, courageous Polychronis Tzorzakis gave it another go. He was rapidly caught by his former breakaway companion, Luis Angel Mate and both men powered away. At km 116 their lead had reached 3’50”. But this breakaway wasn’t going to last as Soudal Quickstep and DSM Firmenich PostNl put the pressure on. Again, due the crosswind, the pack broke into several groups. At km 146 with just over twenty kilometres to go, the front two were caught by a group of 34 riders in the leading group.
FIRST 2024 WIN FOR MERLIER
Left struggling behind were Green jersey Waerenskjold (UNO) and Dylan Groenewegen (Jayco AlUla) and they would never manage to return. Despite the wind, the front group remained together for the loop around the Camel Cup. On the long final straight, with few team mates left, pure power and speed made the difference and Tim Merlier proved to be the fastest. The Belgian conquered his first success of the season by beating Arvid De Kleijn and Casper Van Uden. At 31 years of age, he claims his 35th professional victory (including a stage at the Tour de France in 2021).
VAN UDEN BACK IN COMMAND
Thanks to his third spot, Casper Van Uden moves back into the overall leadership and will be wearing the Green Jersey for tomorrow’s stage 4 between Hegra and Maraya. The Dutchman also leads the point’s and youth classification while Tzortzakis captures the Most Active rider’s orange jersey.