The men’s peloton has had early-season races in the Middle East for some time, and these races have carved out a niche as preparation for the Spring Classics campaign. With the UAE Tour Women, the women’s peloton now has such a race, too, and several classics riders took a trip to the Emirates to get some racing kilometres in before returning to Europe where the Classics season gets underway in two weeks with the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
The most prominent rider was Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx-Protime) – the road world champion was noncommittal about her form ahead of the race but showed that she is on the right track by leading out Lorena Wiebes to two stage victories and winning the queen stage to Jebel Hafeet and the general classification.
“I think it’s a good shape I’m in, but it’s only preparation now. My biggest goal is only in two months, so there should be room for improvement, that’s for sure. I’m really happy with this and can build on it from this moment on,” Kopecky said about her first summit finish victory, looking ahead to the Tour of Flanders.
Kopecky will be the first Belgian woman to race the Flemish classic in the world champion’s jersey, and she is excited by the prospect.
“It means a lot to me. It’s always special when you go out for training and can put on the rainbow jersey. I look forward to racing in it this year, especially the classics in Belgium,” Kopecky said.
The race also featured the last two winners of Paris-Roubaix, Alison Jackson (EF Education-Cannondale) and Elisa Longo Borghini (Lidl-Trek). Jackson enjoyed racing in the UAE even though the wind didn’t play as big a role as in 2023.
“I think it’s nice coming here early in the season, flat-out racing with the wind is a technical skill that you need to take into the classics, especially Paris-Roubaix. But it’s also just a good opportunity to work well with the team,” said the Canadian champion.
Longo Borghini returned to the UAE as the defending champion, but after not finishing her last three stage races in 2023 due to illness and injury, just getting back to racing was the main priority for the Italian champion.
“For me personally, it’s mostly a race where I look forward to really getting the shape to start the European season, but I’m surely not here only for that,” she said at the pre-race press conference.
Longo Borghini could not follow the strongest riders on the Jebel Hafeet climb but held on to finish seventh on the stage and overall, marking an important milestone in her preparation for the Classics.
Silvia Persico (UAE Team ADQ), third overall in 2023, finished one spot behind Longo Borghini on the queen stage and in the general classification and said that her main goal for the spring was the Tour of Flanders.
For Emma Norsgaard (Movistar Team) who missed most of the 2023 Classics due to injury, the race was a good opportunity to start the new season where she targets Gent-Wevelgem, the Tour of Flanders, and Paris-Roubaix in particular, but really wants to do well in all the spring races.
“I think it’s nice to start here to get some speed into the legs. It is more of a preparation to the classics, a good warm-up, that’s what I’m here for. There is wind, but it’s not the same as racing a classic,” Norsgaard said.