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The long guttural roar let out by Sonny Colbrelli as he crossed the finish line on stage 4 of the Tour of Oman showed just how much victory meant to him. It was the first of the season for him and also his Bahrain-Merida team and, amid some doubts, provided confirmation that he's on track for the Classics. "Today was the first time I felt good here," Colbrelli said, explaining that he'd struggled to adapt to the Middle Eastern heat on the opening three stages. "That's good for the morale ahead of the next races." Like many riders in Oman this week, Colbrelli, who started his season at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana earlier this month, is preparing for the spring Classics.ADVERTISEMENT As a sprinter who packs a punch, and as an Italian, Milan-San Remo – where he has twice been top 10 – stands out on his to-do list, but he is also looking to make the next step in the cobbled Classics. He finished 10th in the Tour of Flanders in 2017 and last year was eighth at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and third at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. He will once again line up at those two races – known collectively as the 'opening weekend' – in 10 days' time, although he conceded he needs to save his very best for Milan-San Remo, which comes later in March and precedes the main cobbled Classics period. He is also set to head to the Ardennes later in April for Brabantse Pijl, which he won in 2017, and Amstel Gold Race, where he was ninth that year. "The opening weekend is very important for me as I very much like racing in Belgium and it’s the start of the Classics. I'll be looking for victory there, for sure, but I don't think I’ll be at 100 per cent," Colbrelli said.
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Team Sunweb will take a dual-pronged approach to the inaugural UAE Tour as they target the general classification with Tom Dumoulin and Wilco Kelderman. The team also has their eyes set on early success with the team time trial on stage one, on top of the three opportunities for the sprinters. For both Kelderman and Dumoulin, it will their first competitive outings for the 2019 season. Unlike some of the races later this season, Dumoulin and Kelderman will have equal standing within the team for the seven-day race. After coming close to the Giro-Tour double last season Dumoulin is targeting it again in 2019, with Kelderman due to take the role of super domestique. The week-long race could be a rare opportunity for Kelderman, who finished second to Alejandro Valverde in last year’s Abu Dhabi Tour. Providing back-up for the pair will be Chad Haga and Rob Power, who is making his debut in Sunweb colours after joining from Mitchelton-Scott over the winter.ADVERTISEMENT "The newly named UAE Tour has a few exciting new stages and a couple of the classic stages that we have seen before, with the Hatta Dam and Jebel Hafeet mountain top finishes,” said team coach Aike Visbeek. “Our main goal is the GC where we have two leaders with Wilco and Tom.” The UAE Tour is the result of the coming together of the Dubai Tour and Abu Dhabi Tour and brings with it some well-known finishes from both races. Hatta Dam in Dubai and Jebel Hafeet in Abu Dhabi are well known to the riders and will be key in the fight for the overall title. There will also be a visit to the Emirates of Sharjah and Fujairah, which will be one of the chances for the sprinters. For the bunch sprints, Sunweb have brought Max Walscheid, who has already had a busy start to the season with the Tour Down Under, the Cadel Evans Road Race and the Tour de la Provence. He will have the backing of Nikias Arndt and new signing Cees Bol, the latter riding with Walscheid Down Under last month.
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Sonny Colbrelli, lapping up the applause on the podium after stage 4 of the Tour of Oman, described him as a ‘gentleman’, but Greg Van Avermaet was finding that being a nice guy was scant consolation for finishing last. As they charged for the line on the false flat finishing straight, Van Avermaet led the way on the right-hand side of the road but left a gap to the barrier. Colbrelli, who gave warning, didn’t hesitate and punched through to take his and Bahrain-Merida’s first victory of the season. “I have to thank Greg Van Avermaet, because he didn’t close me against the barriers. He was a gentleman,” Colbrelli said. “I told him ‘I’m coming right side, right side’, and it was perfect, so I have to say thanks to Greg.”ADVERTISEMENT The thanks will mean little to Van Avermaet, who was left cursing himself for being “too honest”. The Olympic champion is not a pure sprinter and perhaps not as well versed in the dark arts of the dog-eat-dog world that is bunch sprinting. “Normally, a sprinter closes in a guy who comes from the right. Colbrelli was out of the wind. I started the sprint quite early, and if I really go to the right, maybe he has to come around and it’s harder for him to come over, and maybe it’s a different story. I left too much of a gap open, I think. It’s just a bit sad, because if I hadn’t have done that it would’ve been better, but it is how it is.” The sense of disappointment was deepened by the hard yards Van Avermaet’s CCC Team had put in just to engineer a situation where he was sprinting for victory.´
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