Tadej Pogacar strenthened his grip on the UAE Tour lead

Jebel Hafeet (United Arab Emirates) (AFP) - UAE Emirates rider Tadej Pogacar took a major step towards victory in his team’s home cycling Tour winning the first climbing stage on Tuesday to strengthen his hold on the overall lead.

The Tour de France champion had already started the day in the leader’s red jersey and finished it by beating last year’s UAE Tour winner Adam Yates.

Yates, the Ineos team leader this week, now sits second, 43sec behind with one more climb stage to overhaul the on form Slovenian.

“The UAE Tour is not won overall yet. A lot can happen in the last four stages,” Pogacar said on the winning line.

“We wanted a win and we got one. It was a really tough day and kind of stressful,” he said mentioning the crosswind that caused breaks in the main group on the flat exposed sections of the ride.

“It was super hard but I’m super happy to win,” said the 22-year-old who had his image emblazoned on the tallest building in the world the Buj Khalifa tower in Dubai after his win in September on the 2020 Tour de France.

But Yates truly took the battle to Pogacar with a series of blistering accelerations on the way up the 10km 5.4 percent gradient Jebel Hafeet summit finish climb.

Only Pogacar managed to follow Yates as the other contenders, chiefly the brilliant Portuguese rookie Joao Almeida dropped away with Yates’ relentless attacking.

But under immense pressure to win this Tour Pogacar refused Yates’ pleas to launch a joint bid to distance the others.

Instead, from a position of strength he sat on Yates’ wheel and then skipped away from him over the final 400m.

The Briton almost overhauled him on the line and the pair finished on the same time of 3hrs 58min 35sec.

Almeida and the chasing group crossed the line 48 seconds off the pace, leaving the Quick-Step man in third overall at 1min 03sec.