Costa, Dumoulin, Aru, Cavendish and Kittel to ride Abu Dhabi Tour

Time trial included in new five-day route

Defending champion Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates), Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb), Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates), and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) are among the riders set to contest the general classification at this year's Abu Dhabi Tour. Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin), Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal), Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) and Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott) will headline the sprint competition.

Other riders confirmed for Abu Dhabi are Ilnur Zakarin, Miguel Angel Lopez, Julian Alaphilippe, Domenico Pozzovivo and Pierre Rolland.

Cavendish is an ambassador for the race and attended the launch event in Abu Dhabi. "Last season was horrible for me. I had a lot of health problems, but the one win I got was here in Abu Dhabi – a very special place for me and in certain terms, a second home for me and for my family too," he said.

"Last year, I was very proud to wear the red jersey as leader at the end of stages one and two and win the final green jersey for the second year consecutively. I hope to repeat that success in 2018 and to be on the final podium again."

In addition to the teams and star riders, organisers have also confirmed the 20 teams that will take part in next month's race. A total of 17 WorldTour teams and three Pro Continental outfits are due to line-up on February 25th, with FDJ the only team opting out of the Middle East race. From the Pro Continental ranks, Bardiani CSF, Gazprom-Rusvelo and Novo Nordisk have been handed invitations.

The route of the new-look race has also been announced with a time trial the day before the race's climax on Jebel Hafeet. The Abu Dhabi Tour was promoted to WorldTour status last year and is expanding from four to five days for the 2018 edition.

The opening jaunts will be reserved for the fast men with the first three stages set to end in bunch sprints. Day one will start and finish in Madinat Zayed taking the riders on a 189km loop through the desert. Yas Island will play host to the second stage as the riders set off from Yas Mall and finish by the beach. Stage 3 is a relatively short 133 ride from Nation Towers to the creatively named Big Flag.

The Abu Dhabi Tour's first time trial will feature on stage 4 with an 11.8-kilometre test around Al Maryah Island. It is set to be a fast affair with just two bends and a u-turn for the riders to negotiate and will be a chance for the likes of Dumoulin to put down a serious marker ahead of Jebel Hafeet.

The traditional mountaintop finish of Jabel Hafeet moves to the final day of competition, replacing the previous closer around the Yas Marina Formula 1 circuit. As well as being the only summit finish of the five-day event, stage 5 is also the longest of the race at 199-kilometres. Costa secured the overall victory at last year's race with victory on Jebel Hafeet, beating Zakarin and Dumoulin to the line.

The 2018 Abu Dhabi Tour will take place from February 21 to 25.

Teams for 2018 Abu Dhabi Tour: UAE Team Emirates, AG2R La Mondiale, Astana, Bahrain-Merida, BMC Racing, Bora-Hansgrohe, Lotto-Soudal, Mitchelton-Scott, Movistar, Quick-Step Floors, Dimension Data, EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale, Katusha-Alpecin, Team LottoNL-Jumbo, Team Sky, Trek-Segafredo, Bardiani CSF, Gazprom-Rusvelo and Novo Nordisk.

2018 Abu Dhabi Tour route

Stage 1: Wednesday, February 21 – Madinat Zayed-Madinat Zayed, 189km
Stage 2: Thursday, February 22 – Yas Mall-Yas Beach, 154km
Stage 3: Friday, February 23 – Nation Towers-Big Flag, 133km
Stage 4: Saturday, February 24 – Al Maryan Island, 11.8km (ITT)
Stage 5: Sunday, February 25 – Al Ain-Jabel Hafeet, 199km

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