Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep), Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) and Philippe Gilbert (BMC) are among the riders that have descended on Dubai ahead of the start of the Dubai Tour. The trio and their respective teams shook off the jet-lag with a short training ride on Tuesday morning.
Also present was former World Champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) and Michael Rogers (Tinkoff), who is making his return after being forced to end his season early in 2015. Rogers was wearing one of Tinkoff’s many training jerseys. This time it was not the eye-searing La Datcha kit but something a bit more modest. The predominantly blue design, with still a hint of yellow, and number 10 on the back, is a nod to Argentinean footballer Diego Maradona.
Astana manager Alexander Vinokourov’s special edition gold Specialized was also on show ahead of the training ride.
Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), Bradley Wiggins (Team Wiggins), and Elia Viviani (Team Sky) joined them later on for the pre-race press conference.
Wiggins sat next to Cavendish and was brutally honest about his hopes. “Don’t expect too much from me, unlike everyone else at this table, I’m not hoping to do anything in this race,” he said.
“This is one of four road races I’m doing this year. It’s good just to be here with my team. There’s quite a big expat community here and everywhere you turn, there’s a British voice. It’s nice to be here with the young guys and hopefully we can get some of us up in the results. Not winning the thing but mixing it with these guys in the sprints. If I can help with them, then great.”
Cavendish is expected to clash with Kittel and Viviani in the sprints on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. He appeared to be quietly confident of his chances of winning a stage.
“I've been at the Dubai Tour for the last two years. I’ve always enjoyed it and it’s an incredible way to start the season,” he said. “Normally I have a week’s racing under my belt and so I’m not too sure of my form. I’m sprinting good after a winter on the track and the Dubai Tour lends its self to sprinters and has a majority of sprints. Only the stage to Hatta Dam is a tough one. I’m here with Dimension Data and we’ve come here with a strong team and hope to get some results.”
Kittel dismissed any suggestion that he was under pressure to win on his debut with Etixx-QuickStep.
“For me it's good to start a new season and start it all with a new team,” he said. “I’m happy with the time I spent with the guys in camps and preparing for the new season. Now it’s the moment to show my motivation and all the work done as a team pays off in this race. We’re very motivated.”
Viviani revealed the importance of winning early in the season for sprinters.
“It is really important to win a race, when I won here last year it was the best possible start for me at a new team. This year I rode the Tour de San Luis and with better condition, we hope to win again in Dubai. I’ve won in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, so maybe it’s a lucky part of the world for me.”
Both Cancellara and Gilbert are considered overall contenders for the Dubai Tour due to the uphill finish to Hatta Dam on Friday. Gilbert has already studied the weather for the week and seen it could become a factor in the race.
“I think this year there will be more wind than last year, so maybe something will happen,” Gilbert predicted. Stage 3 is the best one for me but there was a lot of headwind last year and so the race came back together. If the wind is different it is possible to go to the finish from this point.”
Cancellara confirmed that Trek-Segafredo will also ride to help Giacomo Nizzolo in the sprint finishes.
“We have a high level of expectation and so does the team. We have a strong team and we will use every opportunity to bring something home. We have Giacomo here to lead in the sprints and we will support him. The stage 3 finish is a nice chance there. It’s a nice race and let's see how it develops. I’m hoping to enjoy each day and see how it goes.”
Read a full preview of the Dubai Tour here.