Arvid de Kleijn forced to unclip in UAE Tour finale, but still manages second

Tudor Pro Cycling sprinter brought to a standstill in late crash, but is guided back to front by teammates, as Fabio Jakobsen details chaos of UAE Tour sprints

Clock05:09, Friday 23rd February 2024
Arvid de Kleijn began his season racing at the AlUla Tour

© Alex Broadway/Velo Collection via Getty Images

Arvid de Kleijn began his season racing at the AlUla Tour

Despite the abundance of sprinting superstars on show at the UAE Tour, there was an air of repetition come the end of stage 4 of this year's race, with Tim Merlier (Soudal Quick-Step) and Arvid de Kleijn (Tudor Pro Cycling) finishing 1-2 for the second time in as many sprints.

Merlier once again used his trusty leadout man Bert van Lerberghe to full effect, however, the stage 4 sprint was certainly not business as usual for Tudor's De Kleijn, who suffered a near ambition-ending incident within the final few kilometres.

"I am actually satisfied with the second spot because at 2km to go, we almost crashed and I actually think [Rick] Pluimers crashed," revealed De Kleijn to GCN after the finish.

"We were standing still and I was unclipped, then I clipped in, did a little sprint and I was behind the peloton for 50m or something."

Read more: Tim Merlier and Van Lerberghe continue to thrive at UAE Tour

De Kleijn had been unfortunate enough to have been caught up in the large crash that befell the peloton shortly inside the final 3km. As the peloton raced along King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud Street and eyed up the crucial right-hand bend with 750m to go, a touch of wheels in the pack brought many riders to a screeching halt.

In a tale as old as time, the initial crash within the peloton caused a domino effect that reverberated down the centre of the peloton and produced a scene so unnerving that a gaggle of soigneurs watching a TV feed at the finish could not help but wince in horror.

For those teams who were caught up in the melee, it seemed as though their day was done, as the front of the peloton continued at a canter and offered no reprieve with so little time left on the course. De Kleijn and his Tudor Pro Cycling squad displayed no sense of resignation, though, as they fought to recover the day.

"Maikel [Zijlaard] and Sebastian Changizi brought me back and they did an amazing job by putting me in position again, I was completely on the limit!" chuckled De Kleijn.

Before speaking to GCN in the car park of Dubai Harbour, the 29-year-old had taken the time to thank each one of his teammates who helped to salvage the stage in a frantic finale. It had been a mad dash run to the final kilometre, but once back in the mix, De Kleijn proved once again that he belongs in the upper echelon of sprinters in the peloton, despite riding for a UCI ProTeam.

As the likes of Fernando Gaviria (Movistar), Dylan Groenewegen (Jayco AlUla) and Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Deceuninck) wilted on the finishing straight, De Kleijn overcame his fatigue to bump elbows with two of the world's finest fast men.

"I was in the wheel of [Tim] Merlier and then Merlier moved a little bit, then Olav Kooij pushed me out of the wheel because I was not 100% fresh anymore as I had to come back," recounted De Kleijn. "Then Olav went on the left side and I went to follow him and I thought it was my chance, but then Merlier pushed me out of the wheel towards the barriers."

At first, the Dutchman was hesitant to say whether or not he thought Merlier's manoeuvre was acceptable - "It is kind of okay, I think, I guess" - but after taking a moment to ponder the last few seconds of the sprint, De Kleijn was content that the contest had been a fair one.

"I had to brake and then Merlier went whilst I lost some momentum. I think it's okay, if I'm being honest I would have done the same and I was not super fresh anymore mentally, so I couldn't react."

Such fatigue in the final few moments is no great surprise for a man who was reduced to a standing start just a stone's throw away from the final 2km. But after gathering his second runner-up spot in as many sprint finishes in the UAE, De Kleijn looks well set as the sprinters approach their final two opportunities on Friday and Saturday.

With such an armada of world-class sprinting talent in the Middle East - only Caleb Ewan (Jayco AlUla) and Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) are missing - the chaos that has defined stages 1 and 4 is just part and parcel of racing.

For the likes of Fabio Jakobsen (dsm-firmenich PostNL), what might usually be disappointing finishes are actually regarded as positives, given the competitiveness of the race.

Read more: UAE Tour: ‘I don’t remember such a competitive sprint field’ says Sam Bennett

Fabio Jakobsen details the bedlam of UAE Tour sprints

Careering to a halt some 400m beyond the finish line of stage 4, Jakobsen took longer than most to enjoy the shade offered by a nearby bridge and recover from the efforts of a 70km/h+ sprint. Behind the De Kleijn and Merlier ding-dong, the Dutch sprinter had ridden to sixth place on the day but was sanguine in discussion with GCN.

"You know if you finish top 10 here, then you are doing quite well. They are the best sprinters in the world here," said a content Jakobsen, before offering a moment of reflection on the progress of his new dsm-firmenich PostNL lead-out unit.

"I'm quite happy with how things are going. I think I was in an okay position but my sprint is still building and this is the first real sprints of the season. The atmosphere is good, there is a bunch of new guys in the team, [we are] still getting into the rhythm and I'm happy with where we are now."

As opposed to De Kleijn, Jakobsen was fortunate not to be involved in the crash with little over 2.6km to go. But the pandemonium was unsurprising for the 27-year-old, who is making his UAE Tour debut this season and has quickly come to understand the numbers game that makes these finishes so intense.

"I didn't hear the crash but you know it is hectic," admitted Jakobsen. "There are maybe 15 real good sprinters and they all have at least one guy to support them in the final kilometre, so that means you're racing with 30 guys for the top 10 in the last kilometre.

"It is never possible, there's always 20 left out and they try to move up."

Both De Kleijn and Jakobsen offered up little more than "we will see, huh" when asked whether Merlier was beatable between now and the end of the race, but can anybody prevent a third victory for the Belgian?

The stage 5 finish to Umm Al Quwain will provide our first answer on Friday afternoon.

For all the important information about the 2024 UAE Tour, be sure to check out our dedicated race hub for our full preview, the race startlist and much more.

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