Sam Welsford suffering from crash on eve of UAE Tour, but still well in the fight

Bahrain Victorious point the finger of sprint expectation at Bora-Hansgrohe, but DS Shane Archbold and Australian sprinter take it all in their stride

Clock01:46, Tuesday 20th February 2024
Sam Welsford opened up his season in style at the Santos Tour Down Under

© Tim de Waele/Velo Collection via Getty Images

Sam Welsford opened up his season in style at the Santos Tour Down Under

Hunched over his bars, gasping for breath and looking more than a little exasperated at the mayhem that had just ensued, Sam Welsford was eager to tell his own tale of how the opening stage of the UAE Tour unfolded. Sat atop his top tube just a few hundred metres beyond the finish line, the Bora-Hansgrohe sprinter carried a wave of enthusiasm with each passing comment.

"The first day of the UAE Tour is always going to be bloody crazy and that loop we did out there was pretty nuts," Welsford said after the stage, speaking exclusively with GCN.

"I wouldn't want to do that one again in that bunch. There were almost 100 near-crashes and then there were crashes, so it was a little bit crazy."

Soon follows the usual discussion of how Welsford fared in the melee of the final few hundred metres - "I think we probably went a little bit too early and got caught out before the last corner" - but what most caught the eye were the plasters which were beginning to drape from the sprinter's left leg.

Heading into the UAE Tour after a successful Santos Tour Down Under, which yielded three stage victories, the points jersey and no signs of a crash for the Australian, seeing such patchwork strapping up the wounds below Welsford's left knee came as a surprise.

But as it turns out, these cuts were suffered within hours of landing in the Middle East.

"Unfortunately, the first day we got here I was out training and I hit a big speed bump, maybe my hands were sweaty and I lost both my hands and hit the deck," revealed the Australian. "I'm alright, [it's] just a bit of skin lost and off the finger, but we'll be alright."

In light of the accident, Welsford’s fifth-place finish was a commendable result, as was his ability to stay upright in a chaotic finale. Other riders weren’t so lucky. Behind Tim Merlier's (Soudal Quick-Step) stage-winning sprint, a pile-up resulted in many riders hitting the deck, including Welsford's teammate Ryan Mullen.

"He’s looking alright, nothing’s broken thankfully, he’s going to be pretty sore, he’s lost quite a bit of skin but he’s a strong fella so he’ll be alright I’d say," Bora-Hansgrohe sports director Shane Archbold told GCN later in the afternoon. "It’s going to hurt tomorrow or when he gets in the shower tonight!"

Read more: Mark Cavendish says Astana lead-out 'over-eager but learning' after first UAE Tour sprint

Earlier in the day, Archbold was drawn into a wry smile when Bahrain Victorious pointed to Bora-Hansgrohe as the team to beat in the sprint stages at this year's UAE Tour.

'We don't want an easy ride and holding hands all day'

When quizzed on Bahrain Victorious' strategy for sprinter Phil Bauhaus over the coming days, sports director Neil Stephens was quick to praise Bora-Hansgrohe's recent performances, admitting that they would be the standard-bearer when it comes to the UAE Tour's competitive sprint finishes.

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

"I think that the guys that are doing it best at the moment are Bora. They’ve got numbers and they’ve got it really worked out. I was at the Tour Down Under and they did a great job," Stephens told GCN ahead of stage 1.

Just minutes later, Archbold was insistent that their success in Australia brought not pressure, but a sense of calm ahead of their latest test.

"It’s definitely not pressure, I mean [Sam's] won three stages in the WorldTour already this year in the only race there was," the Kiwi told GCN. "You can only take it as a compliment. We have a plan and it doesn’t change if you’re the most looked-at team or the least looked-at team, you still have to make a plan and race it the way you want to race it."

In the end, Bora-Hansgrohe were not able to replicate their Tour Down Under dominance in the opening stage of the UAE Tour. Instead, one of their riders collided with Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale's Gianluca Pollefliet in the finishing straight, and as for Welsford, the commotion proved too much to overcome just 48 hours on from his crash.

"It was a bit tricky because the last corner was this huge left-hand roundabout, and we were on the right, so we were coming around everyone on the right but then people were stepping out into us from the left, just naturally from the corner.

"Then I had to kind of fight in the middle to get out again, and eventually I got back to them. But Tim just went full gas early, and before I even started my sprint, they were going, so I was like 'ah well, that's it!'"

Read more: UAE Tour stage 1: Tim Merlier wins amid huge crash in home straight

Despite this, Bora-Hansgrohe's Archbold will look to the potential of echelons later in the week with glee. Stage 1 may have flattered to deceive in advance of the final few kilometres, but stages 4, 5 and 6 look more susceptible to mid-stage drama over their more technical terrain.

"This week, later in the week, it is a bit more exciting," he said.

"It creates the race for us, it makes it more chances to move up our climbers, for example, and make the sprint harder. We don’t necessarily want an easy ride around holding hands and then have a 200m sprint at the end. The harder the day, the better for us."

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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