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Aussie champ Plapp faces toughest peak yet in Evenepoel

Australian champ Luke Plapp will have to prevail in a final-day duel with the man he considers to be "the best rider in the world" if he's to be crowned UAE Tour champion.

Remco Evenepoel stands in Plapp's way, leading the race by just nine seconds from Melbourne's rising star as they face one last, fierce 10km slog on a mountain-top finish to Sunday's seventh and final stage to decide the winner.

World champ Evenepoel will be out to make a statement on the 153km ride from Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium to Jabal Hafeet, a mountain on the border of the UAE and Oman, with the final 10.7 kilometre ascent at an average gradient of 6.4 per cent right up his street.

"For me, Remco is the best rider in the world and I like to compete with him," Ineos Grenadiers rider Plapp had said of his Soudal Quick Step adversary earlier in the tour when he held the leader's jersey for a day.

"We are rivals, but at the same time good friends in the peloton. At the start of this tour on Monday, we actually worked together as if we were teammates."

It's far from a two-rider race now, with Bahrain-Victorious's third-placed Pello Bilbao just 13 seconds down on Evenepoel, but the Belgian, who won the world title so dazzlingly in Wollongong after taking his maiden grand tour victory at the Vuelta a Espana last year, is the outstanding favourite again.

The 22-year-old Plapp, who's seeking his first WorldTour triumph, has been tipped for greatness by his old Ineos teammate Adam Yates, who's lying 10th in the general classification at a minute and 14 seconds adrift.

On Saturday, both Evenepoel and Plapp safely negotiated the chaos of the last sprint stage, as Belgian Tim Merlier sped to his second victory of the week for Soudal Quick Step, with Evenepoel even doing a bit of work to help set him up.

"Of course, it would be a very nice victory here," said Evenepoel, whose main aim this spring will be to take over from Australian Jai Hindley as the Giro d'Italia winner.

"I already said in the winter, I wanted to be on a good level at the UAE Tour. We're going to try to defend this jersey very well and maybe try to go for the stage again tomorrow."

In Saturday's sprint, Merlier outpaced two of the best in the world in Sam Bennett and Friday's winner Dylan Groenewegen to take control of the points competition, while Australian Team DSM rider Sam Welsford finished sixth for the second day running after his podium finish on Thursday.

Caleb Ewan's frustrating tour, though, continued after his narrowest of first-day misses as he missed the boat again and trailed in 16th.