UAE Tour Women: Lotte Kopecky takes summit sprint on Jebel Hafeet to win stage 3

Neve Bradbury pipped in two-up sprint to the summit after putting Kopecky under pressure, but the world champion demonstrates her climbing class

Clock12:44, Saturday 10th February 2024
Lotte Kopecky was overjoyed at the finish, after Neve Bradbury pushed her to the limit

© Dario Belingheri/Velo Collection via Getty Images

Lotte Kopecky was overjoyed at the finish, after Neve Bradbury pushed her to the limit

World Champion Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx-Protime) claimed the first mountaintop victory of her career, and threw down a gauntlet to the rest of the women’s peloton as she took a commanding lead in the overall classification at the UAE Tour on Saturday.

The expected battle between Lidl-Trek and SD Worx-Protime played out on the lower slopes of Jebel Hafeet, with last year’s runner up Gaia Realini initiating the attack that drew an elite group away from the rest of the bunch, but when Canyon-SRAM’s Neve Bradbury attacked with just under three kilometres remaining, only Kopecky was able to answer.

The Belgian all-rounder proved that her incredible ride on the Col du Tourmalet in last year’s Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift was no fluke, and that her climbing prowess can now rival the best in the bunch. She caught Bradbury with 800 metres remaining and was able to cruise to her first victory of the 2024 season.

"I think it's the first [mountaintop win] ever! Yeh, crazy," said a delighted Kopecky after the finish. "I was really motivated for this stage and I wanted to see how far I could go on this climb, but of course I wanted this and I dreamed, or hoped really. To win the stage, it was in my mind, but to also do it is very good for the confidence.

"I went kilometre by kilometre because I know on this climb, your legs always hurt and in 30 seconds it can go from having a good rhythm to blowing up. When the Canyon girl went, there was a little bit of panic, but I could go and I could find my rhythm. Once I felt that I came closer again, I was kind of confident that I could make it."

Kopecky braves a canny attack from Neve Bradbury

Heading into the day, just a handful of seconds separated the main GC hopefuls, following the two preceding flat stages, with Lotte Kopecky leading the charge, five seconds ahead of the majority of the rest of the GC favourites. However, with the challenge ahead of them, any gaps could quickly be overturned.

SD Worx-Protime had dominated the first two days of the race, with World Champion Kopecky leading Lorena Wiebes out to victory twice, and with her fast finishes giving her the edge in the overall, it was no secret that the Belgian was also in the hunt for the GC title.

The peloton began their day in the city of Al Ain, before heading out once more onto the exposed Middle Eastern roads. After an initial solo fray by Marie Le Net (FDJ-SUEZ), a breakaway trio established itself, comprising Linda Zanetti (Human Powered Health), Gladys Verhulst Wild (FDJ-SUEZ) and Idoia Eraso (Laboral Kutxa-Fundacion Euskadi). The three amassed a significant lead over the rest of the bunch, with more than 6:15 of an advantage at one point, before the gap steadied as the bunch settled into a rhythm across the broad expanse of the Emirati desert.

With around 25km to go, the pace picked up as the pack began chasing down the leaders in earnest, with Lidl-Trek, SD Worx-Protime and Fenix-Deceuninck sharing the duties at the front of the bunch. There were a couple of crashes towards the rear of the peloton, affecting a number of riders including Claire Steels of Movistar, the second spill for the British GC hopeful in the race so far.

The singular climbing challenge of the race was Jebel Hafeet. An ascent of 10.8km averaging out at a gradient of 6.6%, the gap tumbled as the foot of the slope approached, and when the breakaway hit the climb they nursed just 2:40 of their gap to rest of the peloton, as Liv Alula Jayco added their firepower to the chase.

As the slope kicked up, two of the breakaway dropped away, leaving Verhulst Wild to push on solo, and the peloton thinned out immediately after the climbing began, with Wiebes drilling the pace on the front in service of her teammate. A group of just under 30 riders remained with 8km left to ride, and it was on the steeper sections of slope that last year’s runner-up Gaia Realini began to drive on, distancing all but five other riders, and bringing Kopecky with her.

Verhulst Wild’s day was done with 7km to go as the rampaging group of GC hopefuls closed her down and passed her at a rate of knots. The group of six became five as Elisa Longo Borghini (Lidl-Trek) lost touch under the robust pace of Mavi García (Liv Alula Jayco), followed by 19-year-old Marion Bunel of St Michel-Mavic-Auber 93 as the distance to the summit dropped below 4.5km.

García was content to hold her position on the front of the quartet but with all four riders comfortable the tempo eased off, and it was only a matter of time until someone took the initiative. It was Australian Neve Bradbury of Canyon-SRAM who struck first with 2.7 kilometres to go, and just 500 metres later, Lotte Kopecky put in an injection of pace that Realini could not match. Though García was able to hold onto Kopecky's wheel for a short distance, it soon became clear that the stage win and the GC lead would come down to a head-to-head between Bradbury and the world champion.

As the road dropped down, Kopecky powered on in pursuit of Bradbury, finally closing her down with just 800 metres of road remaining, and the odds were stacked against Bradbury from then on, with the road flattening out towards the summit. One final burst of acceleration was enough to distance the Australian in sight of the line, as Kopecky raised her arms to take the win and continue SD Worx-Protime’s unbeaten run at the race.

Race Results

1

be flag

KOPECKY Lotte

Team SD Worx-Protime

3H 22' 15"

2

au flag

BRADBURY Neve

CANYON//SRAM Racing

+ 3"

3

es flag

GARCIA Mavi

Liv AlUla Jayco

+ 32"

4

it flag

REALINI Gaia

Lidl-Trek

+ 43"

5

fr flag

BUNEL Marion

St Michel-Mavic-Auber 93

+ 1' 00"

6

nl flag

ROOIJAKKERS Pauliena

Fenix-Deceuninck

+ 1' 04"

7

it flag

LONGO BORGHINI Elisa

Lidl-Trek

+ 1' 09"

8

it flag

PERSICO Silvia

UAE Team ADQ

+ 1' 29"

9

nl flag

MEIJERING Mareille

Movistar Team

"

10

de flag

BAUERNFEIND Ricarda

CANYON//SRAM Racing

+ 1' 32"

Provided by FirstCycling

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