Soudal-Quick Step rider Tim Merlier burst from the middle of the bunch to storm past his rivals and win stage 1 on the UAE Tour at Liwa on Monday.

The finale was marred by a high-speed fall with around 20 riders hitting the tarmac hard and three-quarters of the peloton caught behind it.

The fall was caused by a shoulder barge with some riders taken away by ambulance.

Merlier had predicted a fight for the opening stage due to the quality of the field.

"It's my first win of the season so I'm very happy," said the 31-year-old who has previously won stages at the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France.

"I made the decision to ride round from the side because I was blocked. I saw (Fernando) Gaviria (Team UAE) go. I could see the finish line so I went for it," said the broadly smiling Belgian at the finish lien.

Contrary to the weather forecast, there were cross winds in the finale and very little sand on the road despite the route running through sand dunes on a 141km opening run in the seven stage race.

Of the field of top sprinters at the event, which includes four flat stages, two climbs and one time trial, British veteran Mark Cavendish and Dutch fast-man Dylan Groenewegen were caught behind the fall while Elia Viviani fell hard.

Tuesday's stage is a 12.1km individual time trial raced on an atypical route featuring almost no turns.