While the 2024 Women’s WorldTour began last month at the Tour Down Under in Australia and carried into the Cadel Evans Road Race in early February, some teams and riders did not make the trip to the southern hemisphere and have not yet toed the start lines at the top-tier of women’s racing, and or them, the UAE Tour Women will mark the beginning of their road racing season.
The four-day will take place from February 8-12, routed across Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and while this is a sprinters’ paradise, there is one defining GC moment atop Jebel Hafeet.
Cyclingnews highlights a few of the biggest talking points ahead of the UAE Tour Women.
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Expect an unstoppable SD Worx
One of the biggest storylines to watch in the new season will be how the major women’s teams shake up to dominance of the all-powerful SD Worx in 2024.
The UAE Tour marks the all-powerful team’s first road race of the season, and it is somewhat of a test to themselves as much as their rival teams to see if a change of rosters, tactics, and strengths has changed the landscape and the inner workings of the women’s peloton compared to last year.
SD Worx had an outstanding season last year with 62 victories and many 1-2 performances that added an element of depth to the team. We can expect that the team will dominate in a similar fashion at the UAE Tour simply because they line up with the peloton’s fastest sprinter, Lorena Wiebes, and biggest wildcard World Champion, Lotte Kopecky.
These two riders alone seem to feed off of each other’s success, ultimate teammates both capable of winning bunch sprints, breakaway sprints, and solo. But they are not the only two in the mix; they have a strong lead-out rider in Barbara Guarischi and look to Femke Markus and Femke Gerritse to create opportunities.
Kool and Wiebes to clash in the sprints
The UAE Tour is only in its second edition, but from what we saw in the first edition and with little to no changes to the route, we can expect to see a head-to-head battle in the sprints between Charlotte Kool (dsm-firmenich PostNL) and Lorena Wiebes (SD Worx).
Three flat stages mean three chances for fans to watch this battle of the two most powerful sprinters in their early season debuts in Dubai Harbour, Madinat Zayed and Abu Dhabi Breakwater. Last year, Kool won two stages, and Wiebes won one.
However, they aren’t the only sprinters in the race, and many of the major sprinters will be racing at the UAE Tour Women to dial in their new lead-out trains and capture their first victories of the new season.
Clara Copponi will be making her debut with Lidl-Trek, Emma Norsgaard will toe the start line for Movistar, and UAE Team ADQ’s Silvia Persico is one to watch in the sprints and on the climbs.
All to play for on Jebel Hafeet
Jabel Hafeet is the event’s decisive ascent, and it takes place on the penultimate stage 3 of the race. Last year, the climb decided the winner when Elisa Longo Borghini won the stage alongside teammate Gaia Realini, but many believed that the latter was the stronger climber of the two that day.
Both riders return with Lidl-Trek, and it will be interesting to see how they play their tactics toward the versatile Longo Borghini, who is always a sure card to play in the bid for an overall title or Realini, who, in just one season on the WorldTour, has proven herself to be one of the strongest climbers of her generation.
Jebel Hafeet is a 10km ascent with an average gradient of 9%, and it has sections as steep as 11% on the way to the finish line. And while the strongest climb will win, it is also a test of early-season form among the climbers and GC contenders.
Last year, saw the peloton shatter in the strong crosswinds ahead of the ascent, and while some riders, like Marta Cavalli, might have gotten caught up in the chaos, they ended up with the fastest times from start to finish of Jebel Hafeet.
Watch for climbers like Mavi García (Liv AlUla Jayco), Ane Santesteban (Laboral Kutxa-Fundación Euskadi) and Ricarda Bauernfeind (Canyon-SRAM Racing).
Crosswinds could wreak havoc
The wide open roads across Dubai and Abu Dhabi can often expose the peloton to brutally strong crosswinds, which could play a factor in the outcome of the race.
Although the highly-anticipated winds did not make an appearance on the opening stage last year, there was no such luck for the following three stages, which played witness to large time gaps and crashes.
For example, the second stage was hit by high winds and dominated by echelon action right from the start, with a group of 19 splitting off the front. It took the peloton nearly the entire stage to reconnect, only to split up again through the winds in the closing kilometres. Several GC riders lost valuable minutes on the flat stage due to the high winds.
Likewise, echelons caused crashes and separations among the field on the decisive GC day, ending some riders’ GC hopes before they even reached Jabel Hafeet.