After Charlotte Kool (Team dsm-firmenich PostNL) withdrew from the UAE Tour Women due to illness, Lorena Wiebes (SD Worx-Protime) is the overarching favourite for three of the four stages of the Middle Eastern WWT race on stage 1 in Dubai, stage 2 from al-Mirfa to Madinat Zayed and stage 4 in Abu Dhabi, all expected to end in sprints.
“I was looking forward to racing against her,” Wiebes wasn’t happy that her biggest sprint rival was out of the race. At the pre-race press conference at the Abu Dhabi Cycling Club, she named several other riders as her main competitors.
“I think Chiara Consonni [UAE Team ADQ] will be fast. Letizia Paternoster and Georgia Baker [both Liv-AlUla-Jayco) will have fast legs, too, I think, and also Clara Copponi [Lidl-Trek]. I hope we will have some nice lead-out trains to fight against each other,” Wiebes said.
Add to that the Alzini sisters Arianna and Martina (both Ceratizit-WNT), Letizia Borghesi (EF Education-Cannondale), Maggie Coles-Lyster, Tamara Dronova (both Roland), Daria Pikulik (Human Powered Health), Roxane Fournier (St Michel-Mavic-Auber 93), Anniina Ahtosalo and Maria Giulia Confalonieri (both Uno-X Mobility) – the peloton will appreciate the width of the UAE roads as that many sprinters line up to reach the finish line first.
Victory on Thursday’s opening stage could put Wiebes in the red jersey of the overall race leader. The Dutchwoman underlined that while she wouldn’t say no to the leader’s jersey, her focus remained squarely on stage victories.
“We start here with ambition, and my goal is to win as much as possible in the sprint,” Wiebes said.
“The first victory of the season is quite important. You have the feeling that it gets a little bit easier after that and that the pressure is a little bit off. So it will be important again to get a stage this year,” the 24-year-old super-sprinter clearly wanted to open her victory account for 2024 as soon as possible.
However, the sprint finishes aren’t as foregone a conclusion as the flat stage profiles may suggest. The UAE are known for strong onshore winds, and last year’s stage 2 saw the race blown apart in the crosswinds before Wiebes won the sprint of a reduced peloton of 43 riders. Outside the building where the press conference was held, flags were flapping furiously in the wind on Wednesday.
“If the wind is blowing like this, we can have very interesting races the next days. We are here with a strong team for having a really good lead-out for Lorena, and then we have this third stage, which is pretty hard. I’m not yet in Tour de France shape yet, but I will see how far I can go,” Kopecky sounded like she was looking forward to hard racing in the crosswinds.
Stage 1 starts and finishes in the built-up area of Dubai, where the peloton will mostly be sheltered from the wind, but the middle part of the stage is an out-and-back detour into the desert southeast of the city. Forecast northwesterly winds 25km/h mean almost 40 kilometres of tail-crosswind to the turning point at the Flamingo Lake, but the head-crosswind to headwind the peloton will face on the way back makes it likely that any splits that may occur will come back together before the finish.
Stage 2, however, is a different matter: Starting in the coastal town of al-Mirfa and running mainly south-southeast to Madinat Zayed, the peloton may face tail-crosswinds for most of the 113.9-kilometre stage, only turning into a head-crosswind with 12 km to go.