Caleb Ewan. Photo credit A.S.O./Alex Broadway

The Saudi Tour is back and it returns with a bang. The opening stage of this second edition that now takes place in the region of AlUla, north-west of the Kingdom, ended as expected with a bunched sprint. After surviving the 7-km long gravel section through the spectacular site of Hegra the pack made it bunched to Winter Park where Caleb Ewan (LTS) conquered his first win of the year. The Australian beats Martin Laas (BOR) and Fernando Gaviria (UAE) to claim the first Green Jersey of this Saudi Tour.

Two years after the inaugural Saudi Tour took place in and around Riyadh, it was back to racing in Saudi Arabia but this time in the north western part of the Kingdom around AlUla. A splendid setting and perfect weather conditions for the start of stage 1 at the Winter Park. After the strong wind blowing during the opening ceremony a day prior in front of the impressive Elephant Rock, it was far calmer for this opening stage.

Three in the lead
Shortly after 11 AM, the 96 riders representing 15 teams took off for a 198-km race that would include a gravel sequence while going through the picturesque Hegra zone. It took just a kilometre for Polychronis Tzortzakis (KUW) to break away from the pack. The Greek was rapidly caught by two other escapees: Urianstad (UXT) and Mat Amin (TSG). The leading trio reached the first Intermediate Most Active Rider sprint (km 18) with an advantage of 3’40’’ as Urianstad captured the most points. The pack eventually started chasing led out by teams BikeExchange-Jayco and Lotto-Soudal. Just before a change in direction the gap had dropped down to 1’30’’ and with the wind that had picked up blowing from the side, the pack accelerated. After a brave first effort, the front men were caught at km 75.5.

Untiring duo
Another left turn meant the wind would be even more favourable and the pace of the pack continued picking up. There was no breaking away at this speed, at least until km 102 when Urianstad and Tzortzakis again powered away. At the second Intermediate Active sprint won by Urianstad, the gap over the peloton had reached 1′ 30”. Their second effort was once again vain as the Norwegian and his Greek companion were caught again at km 147. The pack remained bunched as it entered the splendid site of Hegra.

Splendid Hegra
Once on the 7km long gravel section of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hegra, drama occurred early. Indeed, a crash sent several riders to the ground including Italy’s Andrea Bagioli (QST). Among the dropped riders was also Ronde Van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix champion Niki Terpstra (TEN). Meanwhile teams Lotto-Soudal and Quickstep were pushing hard at the front.

Mirza in the lead
With 11 kms to go, UAE’s Youssif Mirza managed to take off. The rider from the Emirates saw his lead grow gradually to 15” just five kilometres from the line. But it wouldn’t be enough to stay clear of the hungry pack. He was caught just before the final 3-km sign. Well led out by his Lotto-Soudal sprint train, Caleb Ewan flew to victory. For his debut at the Saudi Tour, the Australian crossed the line with a comfortable lead over Marttin Laas (BOR) and Fernando Gaviria. Ewan naturally captures the first overall leader’s Green Jersey of this edition. He also takes command of the point’s classification while Martin Urianstad claims the Blue Jersey for the Most Active Rider as well as the White Jersey for the best young rider.

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