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Yates responded to a series of attacks from Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and then attacked himself to create a select group of riders that formed on the 10.8km climb. Yates and Pogačar got away as they attacked each other but were eventually joined by David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ), Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) and Ilnur Zakarin (CCC Team).
The five sprinted into the sweeping final turn, knowing the finish was just 100 metres away. Lutsenko emerged first and thought he had won, foolishly raising an arm in celebration. However, Pogačar came up along the barriers to snatch victory with a bike throw at the line and gave UAE Team Emirates an important win on home turf.
Yates finished third in the same time, with Gaudu finishing four seconds behind and Zakarin fifth at seven seconds. Pogačar pulled back six seconds on Yates thanks to the stage winner's time bonus but the British rider leads overall by 1:01 with only two flat stages to Al Mirfa and Abu Dhabi left to race.
"It was amazing," Pogačar said.
"I started quite early but we went really fast into the corner so I lost a bit of speed. Lutsenko passed me on the left and it was full sprint to the finish. I threw the bike on the line to get 5cm and I'm really happy. It's really amazing with this first big goal of the year and home race of the team. It's unbelievable."
Lutsenko was not so happy, collapsing on the ground and covering his face after realising he had lost due to raising an arm in premature celebration.
How it unfolded
The chance of strong crosswinds and so echelons out on the desert roads focused riders' minds as they lined up for the start in Al Ain. They could also see the rocky landscape of Jebel Hafeet and so knew it was not going to be a quiet day in the peloton.
The break soon formed on the flat roads with James Knox (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Larry Warbasse (AG2R La Mondiale), Tosh van der Sande (Lotto Soudal), Andrea Garosio (Vini Zabù-KTM) and Cristian Scaroni (Gazprom-RusVelo) in the move.
Warbasse was the best placed overall and became virtual race leader at one point as their gap extended to over six minutes. However, Knox had the best chance of winning the stage if he could start the 10km climb to Jebel Hafeet with sufficient advantage on the overall contenders.
The five worked together as UAE Team Emirates, Mitchelton-Scott and Team Ineos worked at the front of the peloton to stay out of trouble and to lead the chase. The long loop north meant the riders faced a headwind early on, a 25km section with crosswinds and then a long blast to the foot of Jabel Hafeet pushed on by a cross-tail wind.
A group of 14 riders were distanced in the crosswind sector but the wind speed was only 30km/h and failed to split the peloton into important echelons.
Later on, the Groupama-FDJ twice tried to form an echelon attack but there was simply not enough wind and the peloton returned together, with the break only three minutes ahead.
Niklas Eg (Trek-Segafredo) risked punishment by sitting in his team car's slipstream for a long spell but the pace was steady, with even Chris Froome dropping back to collect bidons for his Team Ineos teammates at one point.
The racing turned serious and the sprinters gathered at the back of the peloton as the climb of Jabel Hafeet began. The peloton gradually shook out as UAE Team Emirates set the pace, with Italian national champion doing a long, fast turn as the gradient began to hurt.
Up front Knox surged away in pursuit of the stage victory but Formolo's hard work left him with a lead of just 45 seconds with five kilometres still to climb. Knox was soon caught and dropped despite a brave and huge effort.
There were only 10 or so riders left up front after Formolo pulled off, and after scrutinising Yates' race face, Pogačar kicked away. Yates responded easily and immediately, as did Lutsenko, Gaudu, Zakarin and a few others.
Pogačar attacked several more times, but each time Yates matched him and even attacked himself to show he was in control. Their jabs allowed the others to get back on as the kilometres ticked down and Pogačar refused to drag Yates to the finish.
The Jebel Hafeet stage is always decided by the sweeping left turn just a hundred metres from the finish line. Lutsenko, Pogačar and Yates sprinted uphill towards the corner, with the Kazakhstani champion winning the first battle and cutting cross Yates. Pogačar took the outside line and was a bike length behind Lutsenko as the line came into view. Lutsenko made the mistake of not closing the door down the barriers, thinking he had done enough to win. However Pogačar refused to give up, sprinted with everything he had and threw his bike at the line.
As Lutsenko raised an arm in premature celebration, Pogačar passed him to hit the line first.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates||3:48:53|
|2||Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana Pro Team|
|3||Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott|
|4||David Gaudu (Fra) Groupama-FDJ||0:00:04|
|5||Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) CCC Team||0:00:07|
|6||Davide Formolo (Ita) UAE Team Emirates||0:00:23|
|7||Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team|
|8||Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team Sunweb||0:00:24|
|9||Victor de la Parte (Spa) CCC Team|
|10||Rafał Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe||0:00:27|
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott||20:35:04|
|2||Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates||0:01:01|
|3||Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana Pro Team||0:01:33|
|4||David Gaudu (Fra) Groupama-FDJ||0:01:48|
|5||Rafał Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe||0:02:11|
|6||Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team Sunweb||0:02:34|
|7||Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) CCC Team|
|8||Davide Formolo (Ita) UAE Team Emirates||0:02:39|
|9||Diego Ulissi (Ita) UAE Team Emirates||0:02:47|
|10||Victor de la Parte (Spa) CCC Team||0:02:51|