By David Hunter
Dubai – Palm Jumeirah 167km
We begin with the usual first stage.
The opening intermediate sprint comes after 45km, we might see a rider with GC aspirations trying to sneak into the morning move. Everyone is here for the sprints, don’t expect the break to survive.
The fight for position begins with a battle to enter the tunnel first, we’ve seen crashes here before. When they exit the peloton, teams have to quickly regroup before entering the final five kilometres. As they head towards a u-turn, it is very important to remain near the front of the bunch. Once we turn, there is only three kilometres to go and it’s full gas.
The final three kilometres is a dangerous time. Teams who are at the front, need to keep the pace high or they risk getting swamped and boxed in. The team that takes it up early better hope they have a long train, or the stage will end in disappointment. Those with a small train need to hit the front at this point. If a sprinter only has two men in front of him, his team need to wait until the final two kilometres. It is a difficult art to master, but extremely effective once you have.
A lovely opening day for the race. We have some wind coming from the sea, making it difficult for teams to make up positions in the final kilometre. Teams will want to be on the inside of the long final curve.
Marcel Kittel – new team, new train, will we get the same old Kittel? He transitioned easily when moving from Giant to QuickStep, will he do they same again? His performance in the Tour de France was nothing short of astounding, he was miles faster than the rest. It is clear that his train are not as strong as he would like and it could take some time for them to click, but he does have a great record in this race. There are a few questions for him to answer.
Elia Viviani – was in great form in Australia, he has started the season with a bang. Moving to QuickStep must be a dream for the Italian, especially given the sprint train he now has. These boys know how to win in Dubai and they will hope to dominate the final 5km, they do have a team capable of doing that. If in the right position, he will win, but can they get him there?
Mark Cavendish – I’m not really sure what to expect from Cav. After a season ruined by his TDF crash, no doubt he’ll start the year full of motivation. His big target is to beat the Eddy Merckx stage win record in the Tour, but he still needs four stages just to equal the great man. Cavendish is now 32, he is far from finished! A strong start to the year will do wonders for his confidence, especially if he can take an early advantage over Kittel.
John Degenkolb – two wins in Mallorca will have been a massive boost for the German, he only managed one win in the whole of 2017. It was only natural that he took time to recover from his training injury, I think we’d all be pleased to see him back to his 2015 level. His sprint train is a work in progress, with Nizzolo being drafted in to help. They have the pace to compete in the closing kilometres, but they don’t often work together.
Dylan Groenewegen – unlike some of the other sprinters, the Dutchman arrives with the same train he worked with last year. Jumbo have a huge amount of faith in their young star and he has signed a contract until the end of 2020. He has improved at a rapid rate, something I expect to continue this year. He ended 2017 by winning in China, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start 2018 with a win.
Alexander Kristoff – I’m not sure his move to UAE is going to go very well. He leaves a well stablished sprint train and joys a team not known for sprinting. In the whole of 2017, the team took just the one big sprint stage, with Modolo in stage 2 of the Tour of Poland. They are not used to delivering their sprinter into a winning position. Looking at their rival teams, I’m not feeling very confident about their chances in this stage.
Nacer Bouhanni – despite taking six wins in 2017, he wasn’t good enough. Cofidis have had a rethink and decided to try a new lead out man, Bert Van Lerberghe. The Belgian hasn’t performed this role on too many occasions, but I think it could work. He is big and aggressive, which will compliment the main attributes of Bouhanni. They might struggle up against the best in the world, but it will give an indication of what Cofidis might expect from Bouhanni this season.
Sonny Colbrelli – was in a good position here in 2017, but crashed in the u-turn. The Italian enjoyed a great 2017, but he’ll be hard pushed to match the speed of the big sprinters here. A solid top ten would be a good start to his week.
This finish is great for a team with a long sprint train. In my opinion, QuickStep are the best here. They have Jakobsen, Terpstra, Stybar, Schachmann, Lampaert and Sabatini. In every position they have a huge amount of speed and power, especially further down the train. This will put them into the ideal position and I expect Elia Viviani to finish it off.
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