By David Hunter
Al Sawadi Beach – Naseem Park 176.5km
The race begins with a day for the sprinters. This is an easy day in the saddle for the peloton, a nice start to the week.
The easy day will start to get hectic, inside the final 10km. The finish can get a bit crazy!
The race will be on to hit the u-turn first. After that we have a couple of kilometres of easy road, before the road bends to the left. Just after the 2km to go sign, the road splits into two. Choosing the “wrong” side of the road, can be disastrous for a lead-out train. With 1km to go, the road becomes one and we get set for a fast finish.
AG2R – with the vast majority of duty to keep Romain Bardet out of trouble, Sondre Holst Enger, will not have much help. One rider who will be on hand to help is Oliver Naesen. It is a roll that the Belgian is happy to fill, he did it a few times for IAM. Enger is an interesting sprinter. He possesses a lot of speed and when he gets it right, he can threaten most quick men. Remember that he finished 3rd in stage 16 of the Tour de France.
BMC – they will be riding for Jempy Drucker, but he won’t have a long train either. They will probably allow Daniel Oss as a lead-out man, but Drucker will have to do a lot himself. He was consistent in Dubai and will hope to be challenging for the podium here.
Katusha – now we have a team will a proper sprint train! Kristoff will be able to count on the help of Hollenstein, Politt, Kuznetsov, Haller and Morkov. That is a serious amount of power. The Norwegian started the season in Besseges, taking one win and two second places. He has a good record in this race and will be disappointed with anything less than the win.
UAE Abu Dhabi – with Zurlo, Ferrari, Kump and Modolo they have a very good chance of challenging for the win. I would expect them to favour Modolo in the sprint, but it might just be Kump after an impressive showing in Australia. They will certainly challenge Katusha for the front of the peloton.
QuickStep – they bring a team more suited to the hills, but still possess some power. Boonen will be their sprinter and he can count on the help of Keisse, Terpstra and Lampaert. As Boonen retires after Paris-Roubaix, he is ahead of most others in terms of fitness. Expect Boonen to be in the mix for the win.
Aqua Blue – Adam Blythe picked up some good positions in Dubai, but failed to take advantage. His policy in Dubai was to be delivered onto the wheel of Cavendish, by Andy Fenn, and then try to sprint from there. I would expect to see them to continue with this approach, but we’ll have to see who’s wheel Blythe chooses to follow.
Sunweb – the team posses a strong train, and I presume they will be working for their young German sprinter, Max Walscheid. He ended 2016 in fine form, taking 5 stages wins in the Tour of Hainan. In front of him he’ll have the likes of De Backer, Sinkeldam, Andersen and Waeytens. I like the look of this sprinter and his lead-out train. A dark horse for the podium.
Bahrain Merida – the new squad arrive with Sonny Colbrelli, fresh from a third place in Dubai. The Italian is a fan of a sprint after a tough day in the saddle, but the difficult days in this race look too hard for him. I don’t think he’s going to enjoy this week.
Willier Triestina – Fonzi, Andriato, Belletti and Mareczko. It’s a not sprint train that will scare any of the big teams. Mareczko made the podium in Dubai, but I feel he got very lucky as he found the wheel of an out of place, Marcel Kittel. It’s time for the young Italian to deliver on the big stage.
Veranclassic – it will be interesting to see what Roy Jans can do with his new team. Jans is an impressive sprinter, a rider who can challenge against the best in the world. He will not be supported as well as he was in previous seasons, but I wouldn’t write his new team off just yet. I will watch them with interest!
There is potential for some echelon action. The wind will be coming from the east, making it crosswind for the majority of the day. We will have to see if the teams are interested in crosswind action!
Alexander Kristoff is the stand out sprinter in this field. He is backed up by a strong team and looks set to dominate the sprint stages this week.
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