Jay Vine
Jay Vine has pulled out of the Vuelta a Espana after a crash on the sixth stage of the Grand Tour. Image by Matt Turner/AAP PHOTOS
  • cycling

Vine still leads UAE Tour after Welsford near miss

Ian Chadband February 24, 2024

Australian rider Jay Vine still leads the UAE Tour with two days left after his compatriot Sam Welsford was pipped in a dramatic sprint finish to the fifth stage.

As Vine safely negotiated another hectic finale on Friday to maintain his 11-second lead in the GC over fellow Australian Ben O’Connor, all eyes were on another chaotic dash to the line in the WorldTour race featuring a host of the world’s best sprinters.

Among them was former track star Welsford, the ever-improving BORA-hansgrohe flyer who was testing himself against an even higher level of sprint competition after his three stage wins at his home Tour Down Under in January.

And the four-time world track champ showed again why he belongs in the highest company as he was just only edged out in a blanket finish in Umm Al Quwain, finishing third fractionally behind Dutch stage winner Olav Kooij (Team Visma-Lease A Bike) and in-form Belgian Tim Merlier (Soudal-Quick Step). 

For a moment, it appeared the 28-year-old had timed his final push perfectly at the end of the 182km stage from Al Aqah as he headed for the line, only for Merlier to edge past on his outside to grab what looked as if it would be his third win of the week.

Sam Welsford
 Australian sprint ace Sam Welsford just missed out on victory on stage five of the UAE Tour. Image by EPA PHOTO 

Instead, powering up by the barriers on the inside having swept past the great Mark Cavendish, 22-year-old Kooij, one of the rising stars of the peloton, snatched the verdict with his second win of the season, and perhaps his biggest triumph to date.

Merlier moved into the lead in the points competition, with Vine fourth in that category.

“I didn’t even know that I’d won, so I was very happy to be declared the winner from the photo-finish,” said Kooij. “I managed to follow Mark Cavendish on the right. Luckily there was a little gap and I could pass everyone. 

“My stage win at Paris-Nice last year was very nice, but the field of sprinters here is very strong so it makes it another very nice one. Now I’m excited to see what I will be able to do at my first Grand Tour, the Giro d’Italia, after this good start of the season”.

Cavendish ended up 17th on the stage, while Australian five-time Grand Tour stage winner Kaden Groves (Alpecin-Deceuninck) also disappointed, finishing ninth.

UAE Team Emirates rider Vine, meanwhile, is biding his time for what is still shaping up as a showdown for the winner’s red jersey in Sunday’s final, mountainous stage, with an all-Australian duel for the crown against Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale’s O’Connor in prospect.

“Today, it wasn’t super stressful but always something can happen,” shrugged Vine.

“I enjoyed being in the lead today even more than yesterday. Riding at the front in the last 10 kilometres is the least scary place and it’s always exciting to race ahead of bunch sprints. I was trying to keep myself safe and it’s good to be in the red jersey for another day”.