For Elisa Longo Borghini (Lidl-Trek), racing the UAE Tour Women is special in more than just wearing bib number 1 as the 2023 winner. The Middle Eastern race also marks her comeback to the peloton after a long period with illness and injuries, having had to abandon the last three races she started – Giro d’Italia Donne, Tour de France Femmes, and Tour de Romandie.
With just over 50 kilometres to go, the Italian champion hit the deck in a crash. But unlike last year, she was lucky and escaped with only a small cut on her arm, easily chasing back to the peloton.
“It was just a small crash without consequences. And then I had a small flat tyre on the front but overall, nothing special,” Longo Borghini confirmed to Cyclingnews after the 122km stage.
Early on, the strong wind forced a split in the peloton, riders took opportunities to attack and there were several crashes. Eventually it all came back together, and Longo Borghini was part of it all again.
“It’s been nice to be back. I had really been looking forward to it. I think I experienced almost everything you can experience in one season, all in one stage, but I’m very happy to be back racing.”
The Italian champion is part of a large pack sitting just 10 seconds out of the overall lead, taken on the opening day by stage 1 winner Lorena Wiebes (SD Worx-Protime).
Attacks all day – but no success
Without echelons, the stage was instead shaped by several breakaways. The most active rider was Yanina Kuskova (Tashkent City Women) who made a made a solo move, then bridged to Gaia Segato (Top Girls Fassa Bortolo) after her first attempt had been brought back.
By winning the day’s second intermediate sprint, Kuskova took the lead in the U23 classification and the intermediate sprint classification, earning two trips onto the podium at the Dubai Harbour.
“I am very happy to get the young rider’s jersey. That was my plan for today, and I am happy to have made it work,” Kuskova told Cyclingnews with her sports director acting as translator between English and Russian.
Going forward, Kuskova has a goal for the general classification: “I would like to keep one of the jerseys to the end of the race, but I also want to be top 20 overall. I know that there are a lot of strong riders here, a top 20 would be great,” she said.
In the final of the stage, Claire Steels (Movistar Team) fell victim to a crash, but three of her teammates dropped back to help their GC leader back to the peloton.
And as the sprint trains were getting ready, Carina Schrempf (Fenix-Deceuninck) made a last bid for glory. The Austrian champion jumped from the peloton with 2.5km to go and had a decent gap but was eventually swept up 700 metres from the line, just after the turn onto the finishing straight.
“We wanted to attack late in the final if the opportunity came along. The chance to make it to the finish was very small with the headwind on the finishing straight, but you have to have a plan and try to go through with it, that much I have learned in my brief cycling career,” Schrempf explained.
“I did that, so I am happy with the effort. I’m not quite powerful enough yet to finish it off, I hope that I can improve further during the season. For the first race of the year, it was alright, and we also worked well as a team, that’s very important too.”