Organisers have opted to avoid exposed roads through sand dunes and move the start from Dubai to Hatta, cutting the race to Hatta Dam by 63km.
“In consideration of today’s weather conditions and the forecast for worse tomorrow, with most of the route being due to take place across the desert, the race management in agreement with the commissaries panel have decided to modify the route of stage four,” an official statement read.
It’s a move the peloton will surely welcome after its in-race request for stage three to be neutralised amid what was described as a “proper sandstorm” on the way to Al Aqah yesterday was overruled.
“I think I still have about a kilo of sand in my shoes,” Koen de Kort said after piloting Trek-Segafredo teammate John Degenkolb to line honours.
“It was unbelievable, I was just breathing in sand. There was sand on the road everywhere, it was like riding on the beach basically. I thought we were doing a beach race there for a while.
“I was in the first echelon and the road was really narrow, and then we had about only half the road left to ride on, I reckon it was about a metre that we could ride on, the rest was deep sand.”
Crosswinds shattered the peloton that split into three main echelons with Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) and race leader Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step) both caught out about halfway into the 200km stage.
The bunch regrouped before nominated riders approached UCI commissaries to ask if the race could be neutralised due to the conditions, but were overruled.
“I think then it was already too late because basically, it was over so the conditions were getting better and better again,” Degenkolb said.
“The conditions were on the limit, or over the limit. I wish we could have avoided a situation like this. I understand also the organisers and the jury that in a moment like this when you have the sandstorm there is not so much you can do, but you have to think about these kinds of things before.
“I think you could have done it a little bit better and just avoid this but in the end, I also can understand the decision that after we asked that we have to neutralise it, we also keep on going.”
The peloton decided instead to temporarily stop riding, letting a controlled time gap to a four-man breakaway blow-out before resuming business when the race moved into mountain protected territory.
“We agreed together that we’d just ride easy because it was super dangerous. There were sand dunes on the road and, yeah, if you are a little bit more in the back then you have no possibility to avoid a crash,” Degenkolb said.
The German sprinter survived the melee to make the tough day worthwhile with a stage win, which doubled as his first for the season and with the new team he joins as a marquee classics man this year.
Trek-Segafredo got its timing right in the tailwind finish, moving up with around 1.2km to go and encouraging Degenkolb to victory ahead of Reinardt Janse van Rensburg (Dimension Data) and Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida).
“Races like this are of course also mental games and I want to be successful but it’s just great to get support like this from the team,” Degenkolb said.
“For me, that’s crucial because in the end you are winning these races also in your head and of course you can also lose it. It was great that the team just kept believing in me, even after I didn’t feel super great after that sandstorm. It was amazing. We had a super good lead-out, it was perfectly timed, I could jump on [Reinardt’s] wheel and luckily in the last few metres I could also overtake him.”
The fourth stage of the Dubai Tour to Hatta Dam is now 109km long though with the hilly finish should still prove decisive to the general classification, as it has previously.