Contrary to expectation, racing in the desert is somewhat stressful. Add to that the fact that the UAE Tour is, for most riders, their first race of the season. When you include the probability of quickly changing wind direction, it means that nerves play a significant role.

And windy it was in the opening stage of Israel Start-Up Nation’s second participation in the UAE Tour. The fight for positions started even before the race was underway. It was a matter of rushing through the team presentations (no spectators anyway) and getting into the start zone early, so one wouldn’t have to close gaps from the very beginning of the race.

After two hundred meters of racing, the first echelons were formed. Everyone came back together though, after approximately an hour into the race. However, in the heat of the Emirati desert, it didn’t take long for the peloton to break up into several groups once again.

Ice cold and confident, it was Israeli road race champion Omer Goldstein who found himself in the first group of 26 riders, after getting a surprising second place in an intermediate sprint.

It wasn’t like Omer felt out of place in between the wheels of Tour de France-winner Tadej Pogacar, Tour de Flanders-winner Mathieu van der Poel, or super-climber Adam Yates. Not at all actually, as he kept pulling as much as all the others in that front group, trying to maintain the lead.

As much as he had to pull to keep well-positioned in the echelon, it also cost the Israeli climber a lot of energy and, unfortunately, he was dropped in the last hour of racing. “I feel sorry for my teammates,” he would say after the race.

“I gave it my all, but it was hard against some of the biggest specialists for these kinds of stages in the world.” With the gap growing between the front group and the first peloton, it was a clear sign that there was not a single moment to potentially recover from his efforts in the front.

With Goldstein dropped, ISN was no longer in contention for a top result on the day. However, the Israeli champion proved, once again, that he knows how to read the race situations well and he gave another sign that it’s only a matter of time before we’ll see an Israeli breakthrough performance in a WorldTour race. Either by Goldstein himself or one of his compatriots.

Photos: Bettini Photos and Sjors Beukeboom