The 2015 edition of the Dubai Tour will include a 17 per cent uphill finish overlooking the Hatta Dam and a 60 per cent increase in total race distance, with Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) confirming during the official presentation that he will make his season debut at the race.
The second edition of the Dubai Tour will be held from February 4-7, with four road stages totalling 663 kilometres. The race, organised by the Dubai Sports Council in partnership with Giro d'Italia organiser RCS Sport, has been upgraded to 2.HC status and so 11 WorldTour squads and four other teams will make up the 128-rider start list.
The Dubai Tour is officially part of the UCI Asia calendar but will mark the start of the season for many of the European-based teams and riders. The Tour of Qatar (February 8-13) follows on immediately after the Dubai Tour, with the Tour of Oman (February 17-22) offering a possible third race in the Gulf.
Nibali has spent a week in Dubai with his wife and young daughter Emma, escaping the European winter and the constant demands of being the Tour de France winner. He had hinted that he would ride the Tour of San Luis with the Italian national team but will make his 2015 debut with his Astana teammates in Dubai.
"I've been on well-deserved holiday with my family in Dubai after a long hard season. I haven't ridden my bike here this time but I'm going to start my 2015 season with Astana here," Nibali confirmed.
"I rode here last year and I think the changes in the route and the uphill finish at 17 per cent will change the dynamic of the race and suits the climbers more than the sprinters. It'll be a good place to test my legs. It'll help me find my form for the rest of the year. I'll probably ride the Tour of Oman and then Tirreno-Adriatico in Italy."
Nibali hinted that he is likely to focus on the Tour de France in 2015, with teammate Fabio Aru targeting the Giro d'Italia.
"For now the only races confirmed on my race calendar are the Dubai Tour and the Tour de France. Nothing has been decided about the Giro d'Italia," he said.
Click here to subscribe to the Cyclingnews video channel.
663km of racing in four days
Taylor Phinney (BMC) won the inaugural edition of the Dubai Tour in 2014 after dominating the opening time trial, while Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) won the three remaining stages. With no time trial in 2015 and the hilly third stage to Hatta Dam ending with the short but 17 per cent climb, the sprinters seem excluded from the battle for overall victory with the likes of Peter Sagan or John Degenkolb more likely winners.
All four stages of the 2015 Dubai Tour will start from the Dubai International Marine Club, with different finish locations after following routes along the coast and in the desert. The riders can expect to race in the sun, with temperatures of around 28C in early February. However cross winds could be a factor in the racing as the stage routes switch and turn across the UAE peninsula.
Stage one is called the Union flag stage and covers 145km, visiting the site of the Expo 2020 and covering four laps of a 8.2km circuit around the huge UAE flag overlooking the gulf. It is expected to produce the first sprint finish of the 2015 race.
Teams and riders asked for longer stages in the second edition of the Dubai Tour as they prepare for the season and the spring Classics, so stage two covers 185km. It visits the Camel Track, the Al-Qudra Cycletrack and the Jumeirah Islands. It finishes on the Palm Jumeirah artificial island, with a very fast finale, similar to the one in 2014 when cross winds affected the sprint.
In 2014, the hills in the Hatta enclave split the peloton but Kittel made a huge effort to come from the back of the peloton to snatch victory. In 2015 the 205km third stage will cover the same rolling roads but then end overlooking the Hatta Dam after a 200m climb at a painful 17 per cent gradient. The time gaps may only be small but the climb and the finale is likely to exclude the sprinters and decide the overall winner.
The winner of the 2015 Dubai Tour will be crowned after the final and fourth 128km stage around the old city before the finish at the foot of the Burj Khalifa skyscraper.
The Commercial Bank of Dubai is the new sponsor of the race and of the general classification blue jersey.
2015 Dubai Tour stages:
Stage 1: February 4: Union Flag stage: 145km
Stage 2: February 5 Palm stage: 185km
Stage 3: February 6 Desert stage (Hatta Dam): 205km
Stage 4: February 7 Burj stage: 128km