Tour of Abu Dhabi: Rui Costa and the Hockey Stick theory

Tour of Abu Dhabi – Stage 3
Saturday 25 February 2017

Quintana didn’t want to beat the field, just Contador

Everybody knew it, and only a heretic would say otherwise: the hockey stick shaped parcour of Day 3 of the Tour of Abu Dhabi, as well as being the first feature on the landscape after 617 agonisingly flat kilometers, was where Nairo Quintana, winner of the Tour of Valencia only a week before, would dust off the opposition and take the overall lead. It was a theory so obvious nobody dare challenge it.

Right up until half way up the Jabel Hafeet. Then nothing made sense any more.

Up to this point things had gone according to the theory, with the climbers inching away while the Schadenfreude-cam documented the entirely fathomable demise of each of the big named sprinters, puzzling the laymen in the production office as to why horizontal performance was not matched on the vertical.

Finally Quintana made his move, but never got more than a bike length of Alberto Contador. Then he did so again and Contador stayed with him. Surely the pair were about to set sail for the finish line.

It’s Quintana’s habit to ride up a mountain looking backwards at all times. It was said that the late Marco Pantani used to start a climb from the back of the field, so he could watch the opposition suffer as he glided passed them. Quintana does his watching from the front.

Or at least he usually does. Here he showed no interest in seeing where the threat would come from. He only had eyes for Contador.

It was as if he had ridden the entire race with the sole intention of tormenting Contador, who did nothing in response.

Quintana ducked, weaved even looked around for his teammate to lead him up a climb. He did everything to provoke Contador. The Colombian would have been happy to finish the day second to last, provided he beat Contador to the line. But Contador stuck around, content with stalemate.

This went on for 9km before it became obvious neither man had any intention of winning. This wasn’t all about Quintana, as Rui Costa and Ilnur Zakarin knew as they extended their lead further up the road.

Costa, in home team colours of UAE Team Emirates, would win it ahead of Zakarin. Quintana crossed the line shortly after, sprinted to earn three seconds on Contador, who might have been glad of the peace.

After 617 flat kilometers some drama on Dubai’s mountain, and the Hockey Stick theory completely debunked.

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