By David Hunter
Time for the 2nd edition of the UAE Tour, a race that doesn’t get much love. We have a great start list, with many of the top riders in the world. Time to look at the route.
The first of the expected bunch sprints. As we have Bennett, Ewan, Groenewegen, Gaviria and Ackermann at this race it’s the first chance to see the top sprinters go head to head. This will be fun! Please note, there is quite a large section in the desert, but will the wind blow?
Hatta Dam. Can Ewan repeat his dominant win from last year?
The first of the GC fights as we finish at Jebel Hafeet. It’s 10.6km at 7%, on a wide road. We normally see a small group of 4 or 5 riders approach the line together.
Sprint battle round 2.
I’d loved to have been in the meeting when someone suggested another stage that finished on Jebel Hafeet! This is a bonkers decision by the organisers, but I’m sure they don’t care what I think.
Sprint battle round 3.
Sprint battle round 4.
A fairly large amount of this race will take place in the desert, I hope we’re all crossing our fingers. Current weather forecasts don’t suggest a lot of wind, but forecasts can change. Keep an eye out for my daily previews which will feature up to date wind predictions.
As this race features four sprint stages, I thought it was only right to pay a visit to the sprint train. Joining me is Shane Archbold of Deceuninck – Quick Step one of the best lead out men in the world. Shane will be lining up with Sam Bennett, but he also just won the New Zealand road race and will be sporting his national champs jersey.
It’s never easy to move teams, how has the shift to QuickStep gone for you?
“Extremely smoothly, there is a reason this team has been in the business for so many years, they simply do things right and it’s great to be a part of it.”
The sprint train is looking good. Has it been fairly easy to move into it?
“Very easy, Mørkøv is the master of all things lead out! It’s a pleasure to work with him! We have gelled well since day one of the season and hopefully it continues that way going forward. With Sam’s speed, we can do big things.”
What was it like to win your national title?
“Incredible, great feeling to tick that off the list. I don’t get to race for myself much but if I got to choose which race I wanted to win this would be high on the list.”
What’s your new kit going to be like?
“The coolest in the peloton without a doubt. Black and white with a fern. That’s about all the information you will have for the moment, but you don’t have to wait long!”
What are your hopes going into the UAE Tour?
“Hopes??? I hope to ride around looking cool and enjoying my new kit. And of course to continue the winning ways of this team, and play my part in a victory. It’s a star stacked sprinting field so it would be nice for Sam to bag another one.”
Are you looking forward to doing the same climb twice!?
“I will put that down as a first, I mean I have done the same climb twice before in a race, but never the same hilltop climb two days apart. I would have preferred another sprint opportunity!”
Tadej Pogačar – started the season in hugely impressive form, easily winning the Valenciana title. We all know what an impressive 2019 he had, but to start off the season by putting Valverde firmly in his place was a surprise to me. UAE had been away at an altitude camp, which meant that they started the season fast, but he looked miles ahead of the rest. The Slovenian has made no secret in saying this is his first target of the season, winning their home race is a massive deal for his team. With Ulissi and Formolo to help in the mountain stages, Pogačar has to start as the overwhelming favourite.
Alexey Lutsenko – looked good in the Tour of Provence, finishing 3rd overall. Normally associated with being a punchy rider, Lutsenko always climbs very well at the start of the season, he’s a two-time winner of the Tour of Oman. Jebel Hafeet isn’t the hardest climb in the world, but he will be right at his limit when the real climbers start to kick off.
Emmanuel Buchmann – the German is another rider who enjoyed a brilliant 2019, culminating in his 4th place at the Tour de France. Despite saying he didn’t do as much winter training compared to previous years, he still won his first race of the year in Mallorca. 4th here last year, I’m sure he’ll be wanting to finish on the overall podium, and after his performances last year, he should be targeting the win.
Adam Yates – 2019 was a strange one for him, he was outstanding in the early part of the season, finishing 2nd in Tirreno and Catalunya, as well as 5th place in Andalucía and the Basque Country. The problem was that he flopped at the Tour, something that was a surprise to me. This is his first race of the season, so we don’t know about his current form, but he’s spoken about trying to win some stages. I would expect him to be a little behind his main rivals.
Wout Poels – another rider who looked impressive in Valencia, finishing 2nd on the Queen stage and 6thoverall. After having moved away from the comfort of Ineos, Poels will now have to feel the burden of pressure that comes with being a team leader. Bahrain are looking to him to provide a good GC result, and he should be fairly confident of delivering as Jebel Hafeet looks good for him.
Alejandro Valverde – has won on Jebel Hafeet the last two times a race has come here. Valverde started the season poorly in Valencia, he looked way off the pace in the Queen stage. As I’ve mentioned before, age will eventually catch up with the great man, but he cannot be written off. He knows how to win on this climb, something the others can’t say. If the wind blows in the desert, you can bet he’ll be trying to put some of the pure climbers into difficulty.
Wilco Kelderman – was 2nd place in the 2nd stage in the Tour of Provence, and finished 5th on GC. That was a good start to the year for the Dutch climber, after most of 2019 was ruined by injury. He’s a regular at this race, but Jebel Hafeet always seems a little too hard for him. Will that change this year?
David Gaudu – you all know how much I rate the young Frenchman? He wasn’t at his best in Provence, but this was always his first target of the season. He was 3rd on Jebel Hafeet in 2019, a result that will give him a huge amount of confidence. When the going gets tough, expect to see him at the head of the race.
Giulio Ciccone – this is a huge season for Ciccone, as he moves from a breakaway rider to a GC contender. Things have started well, he won Trofeo Laigueglia riding for the Italian national team, and he looked in amazing form. This will be his first time going for GC in a stage race like this, I’m excited to see what he can do.
Sorry to be boring, but I can’t see anything else than a win for Tadej Pogačar.
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