By David Hunter
The racing in the east continues, with the 4th edition of this young race. After this, the pro peloton pack up and head back to Europe.
Easy sprint stage number 1.
Easy sprint stage number 2.
Easy sprint stage number 3.
The organisers have decided to mix things up this year and added an individual time trial. This will be a good addition, as the TT has been missing from the races in this part of the world, ever since the Tour of Qatar ended.
The usual stage ending with the climb of Jebel Hafeet. As we enter this stage with gaps from the TT, it should be a little more exciting than usual.
Rui Costa – the defending champion is back and looking to try and successfully defend his crown. The addition of the TT is very bad news for him, it makes it difficult for him to win again. UAE also have Fabio Aru to ride for, that gives them two great options to win the mountain stage, but neither are serious contenders as they are sure to lose too much time in the TT.
Alexandre Geniez – the AG2R rider has already started the season in fine form, taking wins in GP La Marseillaise and Tour La Provence. Don’t forget he ended 2017 also in fine form, taking the win in Tre Valli Varesine. At 29 years of age, he finally seems to be fulfilling the promise he showed in his youth. He can TT and climb, making him a contender for this race.
Miguel Angel Lopez – fresh from an impressive win on the Green Mountain. The Colombian is capable of a decent TT, but the flat nature of this one means he is likely to lose time to some of his rivals. That will leave him needing a huge performance climbing Jebel Hafeet. Looking at some of his competitors, I think it will be hard for him to make up any time lost in the TT. Expect him to challenge for the podium.
Ion Izagirre – last year was a strange one for Izagirre, where he managed to improve in the Ardennes, but struggled to take a big result in a stage race. His year was brought to a premature end when he crashed in the Tour de France prologue. He started 2018 off in the Tour Down Under, riding for others. Since then, he’s enjoyed a little break before a busy period of stage races. He is a fantastic climber, but also very strong on a TT bike. Given the route, that makes him a man to watch in this race.
Rohan Dennis – BMC have made it clear, they are here to try and win the overall. The TT is brilliant news for Dennis, he’ll start that stage as the big favourite. Over 12.7km, it is possible for him to put 1 minute into some of the climbers. His problem will be riders like Dumoulin, as they will limit losses in the TT and expect to out climb Dennis in the mountains. 2017 was meant to be his year to transition into a GC rider, but his crash in the Giro denied us the chance to see how much progress he has made. His main focus is again the Giro, an impressive performance in Abu Dhabi will certainly ease any worries he may have.
Alejandro Valverde – took a great win in Valenciana, making it look very easy. I must admit, it’s going to be strange seeing him race over here, especially as he skipped Ruta Del Sol for this. The TT isn’t great news for Bala, but he will be confident of limiting his losses to his main rivals. The nature of the mountain stage is perfect for him, no doubt, he’ll start as the favourite. I look forward to seeing him go up against Lopez and Alaphilippe.
Julian Alaphilippe – the new Valverde! 2017 wasn’t quite what he’d hoped for, a crash in Pais Vasco ruined his classics campaign and hopes of riding the Tour de France. He did manage to take a stage win in the Vuelta, where he mainly sacrificed himself for his teammates, and finished 2nd in Il Lombardia, to go with his 3rd in Milano-Sanremo. Despite these successes, I was a little underwhelmed by his 2017. With a good winter behind him, he started the season with a stage win in Colombia, it’s always good to get a win early in the year. He was 5th here in 2017, a result he’ll be expecting to improve this year.
Stephen Cummings – you might be surprised to see me list him as one of my contenders. This is his first race of the year, so we don’t have any idea about his form, but it is a race that suits him. Cummings is very fast in short TTs and we all know about his climbing ability. We won’t know if this is a race he is targeting until later in the week, but I would love to see him going after this crown.
Ilnur Zakarin – another rider beginning his season at this race. After a successful 2017, which included 5th place in the Giro, the Russian is heading to the Tour de France, in 2018. He was good here in 2017, finishing 2nd overall, something he would be happy to repeat. Zakarin is solid against the clock, but the flat TT isn’t great news for him. He will hope for a decent showing in the mountain stage.
Jonathan Castroviejo – he debuted for Sky in Colombia, riding in support of others, but this race should be for him. The Spaniard is brilliant against the clock and would expect to be fighting for the stage win. That will put him into a great overall position and he’ll look to defend in the mountains. An underrated climber, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him fighting for the podium.
Tom Dumoulin – after an amazing 2017, Dumoulin is copying his exact race schedule. He opened here with 3rd place, last year, but the TT means this race just got even better for him. He would hope to be challenging for stage wins on both Saturday and Sunday. I think we were all impressed by his climbing in 2017, something I expect to get even better in 2018. Dumoulin is a magnificent athlete and will be one of the riders to watch in 2018.
The TT means it really should be Dumoulin v Dennis v Alaphilippe v Castroviejo v Izagirre. If a rider loses 30 seconds to these powerhouses, it will be impossible to make that time back on Sunday. I’ll go with Tom Dumoulin, I expect him to start the season with a bang.
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