Weekend Roundup: Some Surprises, but Visma | Lease a Bike Still Dominates

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

The 2024 UAE Tour threw up the weekend’s biggest surprise when 22-year-old Lennart Van Eetvelt (Lotto Dstny) came from ninth place in the GC standings to win the race in the final 1800m of the last stage and snatch a thrilling victory from Ben O’Connor (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale).

Van Eetvelt climbs to upset victory in UAE Tour

When Van Eetvelt made his winning move near the top of the Jebel Hafeet (10.9km @ 6.7%), O’Connor was the virtual race leader after the home team, and race favorites, UAE Team Emirates crashed and burned. The team’s downfall actually began during Wednesday’s stage 3, when the odds-on race favorite, Adam Yates, was forced to abandon after suffering a concussion in a violent crash. That had put teammate Jay Vine in the lead by 11 seconds over O’Connor, who won the stage. Another strong Team Emirates climber, Brandon McNulty, was third, 13 seconds off the lead. So it still looked good for the team heading into the last stage.

But McNulty tired badly near the bottom of that final climb and Vine lasted only a little longer, suggesting that perhaps an illness was afflicting the team. That left O’Connor as the virtual leader, and almost a certainty to take the laurels. But when Van Eetvelt took off on his own with an impressive burst, neither he nor the other four riders in his group had the legs to follow.

Van Eetvelt
The 2024 UAE Tour threw up the weekend’s biggest surprise when 22-year-old Lennart Van Eetvelt (Lotto Dstny) came from ninth place in the GC standings to win the race. © Profimedia

Then it was just a question of the winning margin. O’Connor had come into the stage with a 26-second lead over the Belgian. With an automatic 10-second bonus for the stage win, Van Eetvelt need to win by at least 16 seconds and hope that O’Connor did not finish second and pick up 6 bonus points. As it turned out, his margin of victory over the Australian was 22 seconds, and O’Connor finished third, for only four bonus points, which made the margin of victory a slim 2 seconds. Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious) finished third, at 11 seconds.

In winning the stage and the stage-race GC, Van Eetvelt – who turned pro only two years ago – scored the first two important victories of his young career in one stroke. He spoke for many when he said after the race, “Unbelievable, I cannot believe it.” He went on to say, “This morning everybody was telling me to go for everything, that I could win [the] GC too, but I said, ‘Guys, we have to stay realistic. I’m still far behind a lot of [the] world’s best guys like Jay Vine.’ But this was the plan, this is what I had in my head.”

It’s great to have a plan, but much better to have the legs to carry it out.

One more notable result in the race were the three sprint victories by Soudal–Quick Step’s Tim Merlier. Impressively, Merlier did most of the work without a leadout, and was head and shoulders above his rivals. He suffered his only loss, by a whisker to Visma| Lease a Bike’s Olav Kooij, because he started his sprint just a nanosecond too late.

Same old, same old for dominant Visma | Lease a Bike

In other weekend racing action, Visma | Lease a Bike demonstrated that they are still the team to beat on the road. First, their all-purpose superstar Wout van Aert was the prohibitive favorite to win Saturday’s first Classic of the season, the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, but he didn’t. But it didn’t matter to Visma.

Van Aert was one of three Visma riders in a lead group that looked to be perfectly set up for his victory. But the six were unexpectedly reeled in by a group of about 20 riders, including another Visma rider, Jan Tratnik, with 20km to go in the 202.2km race. Tratnik and Nils Pollitt (UAE Team Emirates) broke away from the group with 9km left to race and they still had a slim lead over the pursuers at the start of the final km. Pollitt decided it was better to race for a podium than to let the pursuers catch up and started an early sprint to the line. This gave the advantage to Tratnik, who sat on his wheel and the easily beat him to the finish, for a surprising and popular victory. Pollitt finished 3 seconds behind. The winner of the bunch sprint for third place was, who else, van Aert. When you’ve got it, flaunt it.

The next day the same riders lined up for the Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, a route of 197km with lots of short steep climbs, tailor-made for a breakaway. Again van Aert took off from the peloton, with 80km to go, accompanied by Tim Wellens (UAE Team Emirates) and Oier Lazkano (Movistar). This time the group made it to the finish line, with van Aert easily taking the win over Wellens and Lazkano.

Visma–Lease a Bike made it three wins in three races when two-time Tour de France winner Jonas Vingegaard won three dominant solo victories in succession on the four-stage O Gran Camino. The weather was so bad that the times taken on the stage 1 ITT were neutralized due to gale-force winds and the scheduled stage 4 summit finish on the category 1 Tui was canceled because of heavy rains. It didn’t matter to the Dane. Mountains are his bread and butter. He left everyone behind on the replacement stage 4 summit finish on the Alto de San Cosme (5.5km @ 6.2km), the third of his winnings solo climbs. [Check out his winning ride here.] His margin of victory in the final GC standings over second-place Lenny Martinez (Groupama-FDJ) was a whopping 1:55, while Egan Bernal (INEOS Grenadiers) showed that he is getting close to his best form at last with an impressive third place, 2:11 adrift.