WorldTour racing resumes for the men’s peloton at the UAE Tour from February 19-25, offering a chance for the best sprinters to get their lead-out trains flowing and providing a look at the early climbing form of GC hopefuls on Jebel Hafeet.
Organiser RCS Sport yesterday announced the list of teams riding the final Middle Eastern race of the season, with 16 WorldTour sides and four ProTeams taking the start in Abu Dhabi.
Only Arkéa-B&B Hotels and Groupama-FDJ are opting out from the top division with highest-ranked second division teams Israel-Premier Tech and Lotto-Dstny automatically invited while Corratec Vini Fantini and Tudor Pro Cycling secured the wildcards.
This year’s route is slightly different with the opening stage featuring a new finishing location in Liwa Palace and an undulating route around the Moreeb Dune cycle path which could rule out many of the fast men. Stage 2 resumes normal service with an individual time trial before the peloton takes on Jebel Jais on stage 3, a trio of sprints on stages 4-6 before the climax up Jebel Hafeet (10.9km at 6.7%).
The UAE Tour Women starts on Thursday, February 8 with four days of racing played out over a similar parcours, also decided by Jebel Hafeet on stage 3.
Cyclingnews will be present at both the UAE Tour Women and UAE Tour collating news on the ground from riders and teams.
But as their home event and only WorldTour race in the Middle East, the Emirati team will s a very strong team to correct missing out on overall victory in 2023 with Yates as leader.in: Luke Plapp (Jayco-sAlUla) and Adam Yates (UAE Team Emirates).
There is no suggestion defending champion Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep) will return with a European start to his calendar scheduled, nor two-time UAE Tour winner Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), whose 2024 debut is currently pencilled in for Strade Bianche on March 3.
But as their home event and only WorldTour race in the Middle East, the Emirati team will send a very strong squad to correct missing out on overall victory in 2023 with Yates as leader.
The Brit, a previous overall winner in 2020, won last season’s queen stage atop Jebel Hafeet, while also breaking the record on the climb, ahead of Evenepoel. However, he was too far down to challenge for the GC lead after losing 51 seconds in the crosswinds on the opening stage and a further 16 seconds in the team time trial.
Jay Vine is set to start his season in the UAE alongside Yates and Brandon McNulty, who has started the season in fine form with a stage win and overall victory at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana. Mikkel Bjerg is down to start but expect another rouleur in there to ensure echelons aren’t UAE Team Emirates’ undoing.
Plapp’s nasty crash at the Tour Down Under may have him below top form but other GC challengers expected to start include Ben O’Connor (Decathlon AG2R La Mondial), winner up Jebel Jais last year Einer Rubio (Movistar), Ilan Van Wilder (Soudal-QuickStep) and Romain Bardet (DSM-Firmenich PostNL).
A whole host of top sprinters will be present as always to fight out the three flat stages and vindicate the race’s status as an unofficial ‘sprinters World Championships’, often attracting a better sprint field than the Tour de France.
Tim Merlier (Soudal-QuickStep), Mark Cavendish (Astana Qazaqstan), Fabio Jakobsen (DSM-Firmenich PostNL), Dylan Groenewegen (Jayco-AlUla), Olav Kooij (Visma-Lease a Bike), Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain Victorious), Sam Bennett (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale) and Elia Viviani (Ineos Grenadiers) are among the fast men provisionally down to start.
Cavendish will be eyeing all three flat finishes in Dubai Harbour, Umm Al Quwain and Abu Dhabi breakwater, with the latter in particular taking his fancy. The same finish location in the 2022 race was where Cavendish last beat Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck).
Since then the Belgian has become the best sprinter in the world with four Tour de France stage wins in 2023 and he will be the biggest barrier to the 35th in summer. He isn’t on the provisional start list but neither is anyone from Alpeci-Deceuninck so don’t be surprised to see him there.
It should provide an early look at the lead-out train battles and Cavendish’s chances at taking a historic 35th Tour de France stage win come July, with key leadout riders Michael Mørkøv and Cees Bol added to the provisional list today.