The big-name riders at the Dubai Tour revealed their hopes and intentions for the four days of racing at the pre-race press conference on Tuesday, with Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick-Step) and John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) looking forward to the expected three sprint finishes, while Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) played down their chances of overall success despite having an opportunity on the uphill finish to Hatta Dam on Friday.
Nibali and Rodriguez make their season in Dubai and insisted they are looking for a gentle start to the season. Valverde showed his form by winning a race at the Challenge Mallorca with a solo attack, and his ability to climb and sprint makes him a natural overall favourite, even if he insisted he'd be working for teammate Juan Jose Lobato.
“I feel good and feel strong. This race is different to Mallorca, it's for fast finishers,” he said after a morning ride and a photo session at the Dubai race course.
“It's true there's a 200-metre section at 17 per cent and it's difficult to see how all the sprinters will be up there but we have Lobato who is good and strong and we'll be riding for him.”
Nibali took centre stage as Tour de France winner. The Sicilian looked relaxed, lean and ready to race. But was keen to put the pressure on Valverde's shoulders. His Astana team will also ride to help Andrea Guardini in the sprints.
“There's an uphill finish but it's short and steep and so not really for me,” Nibali said. “We'll see how my form is and hopefully get a confirmation that I've worked well during the winter and set myself up for the next block of work and next races. There are some big-name riders here and I think explosive riders like Valverde and Rodriguez could do something on stage 3. I could try something but we'll watch and wait then try to take a chance if it comes up.”
Cavendish and Degenkolb go shoulder to shoulder
Mark Cavendish and John Degenkolb rubbed shoulders and joked with each other during the press conference. They will no doubt rub shoulders again in the expected sprints on stages 1, 2 and 4 but will be fighting for victory in sight of the finish line.
Last year, Marcel Kittel won all three sprints but Cavendish has showed his early-season form at the Tour de San Luis and is reunited with his lead-out man Mark Renshaw here in Dubai.
“Anything can happen in a sprint. You can't judge a sprinter's form on the sprints, you have to do it on everything else in the race,” Cavendish pointed out.
“There's a good group of sprinters here, with people like John, Guardini and others. We should see some good racing. We should have three sprints and the wind could also play a factor like it did last year. Nobody is on July form here. It's about working on the lead-out train for the sprint as well as the racing. I'm happy to be here with my Etixx teammates and to target stage wins. W'ell see how we get on.”