It was one of those days on the bike for Amber Kraak, when all the pieces fall into place and you walk away with your first WorldTour victory.
The Dutchwoman, newly signed to FDJ-Suez, ensured she was in the break on the final day of the UAE Tour. With a sprint predicted and Lorena Wiebes in the bunch for SD Worx-Protime, one would expect the break to be doomed before it even went away, but the peloton had had enough of the Dutch team after they’d won all previous stages. When a break of four went away early in the stage, the rest of the teams left that of the race leader to do the work.
Just under halfway through the stage, the breakaway had gained three minutes. It wasn’t an insane advantage, but behind, the peloton was content to allow the four to remain out front.
“Our plan was really to go for the attack,” Kraak said of the opening kilometres. “When we had three minutes, I was like, ok, if this group really works together maybe we can make it … and [SD Worx] also only has only three riders to close it. I thought, maybe we can go with this group to the finish.”
Coming into the finish Kraak left her two remaining break mates behind to go solo to the finish, and the final 5 km was a mathematical mind mess. At 5 km, SD Worx still had three riders left on the front, and UAE Team ADQ, Human Powered Health and Liv AlUla Jayco were all interested in chasing Kraak down. But things shifted into Kraak’s favour when SD Worx was suddenly nowhere near the front of the race. Instead, DSM Firmenich-PostNL led the peloton with 3 km to go and a 37-second advantage for the lone leader.
“I wanted to wait for the sprint but when the others stripped riding I thought, ‘ya, let’s go’,” Kraak said.
Teams swapped turns throughout the last 3 km, but Kraak never faltered. When Wiebes opened up her sprint in the closing meters, Kraak had already crossed the finish line, but even so, the Dutchwoman didn’t have time to raise her hands in triumph.
“In the radio, I heard my teammates yelling go go go, and also from the car, so I knew it was really tight,” Kraak said after the race. “I didn’t dare to look back or put my arms in the air.”
“I’m not really used to [winning] so I will celebrate next time with my arms in the air.”
It was such a chaotic finale that Fenix-Deceuninck’s Carina Schrempf thought she might as well give it a go in the closing kilometres with a solo move (it did not work).
Kraak held on to win ahead of Wiebes by only a few bike lengths, while Lotte Kopecky held onto her race lead safely in the bunch. The latter tipped her hat to Kraak for her ride after the stage, saying her team knew there would be a lot of interest in the breakaway today.
“Surprise? Not really,” Kopecky said of the break winning the stage. “We knew that probably riders would try to go in the breakaway and this breakaway was really strong so I think it’s deserved she got the win today.
“In the end, it was really, really close. I think my teammates of SD Worx did everything to close the gap and we didn’t succeed, so we must admit the girl in front was just very strong.”
That girl in front made sure all four stages, plus the overall and points jersey, didn’t all go to the Dutch team. But Kopecky has bigger fish to fry coming up in Belgium in just a few weeks.
Overall it was still one heck of a first race for SD Worx, in addition to being a fantastic outing for Kraak in FDJ-Suez colours. Kraak rode for Jumbo-Visma for three seasons from 2021 to 2023, but made the move to the French team at the end of last season. The 29-year-old former rower came to cycling late, but her power slotted her seamlessly into the peloton. Hopefully, the Dutchwoman will get a chance to raise her arms in the months to come.
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