The 2018 Dubai Tour is again expected to produce some hotly contested sprint finishes, with Marcel Kittel, Mark Cavendish, Elia Viviani, Alexander Kristoff, Dylan Groenewegen, Nacer Bouhanni, and Jakub Mareczko all expected in the Middle East for the five-stage race between February 6-10.
The Dubai Sports Council and RCS Sport have invited 16 teams to the race, including nine WorldTour teams, five Professional Continental teams, the Mitchelton-BikeExchange Continental team, and a UAE national team.
Astana, Bahrain-Merida, BMC Racing, Quick-Step Floors, Dimension Data, Katusha-Alpecin, LottoNL-Jumbo, Trek-Segafredo and UAE Team Emirates will line-up, with Aqua Blue Sport, Cofidis, Rally Cycling, Team Novo Nordisk and Wilier-Selle Italia completing the 112-rider peloton.
RCS Sport hinted that other big-name riders would also race in Dubai, with Giacomo Nizzolo and John Degenkolb of Trek-Segafredo and Sonny Colbrelli of Bahrain-Merida expected to be there.
Kittel won the overall classification of the Dubai Tour in 2017 after a sand storm forced organisers to cancel the key stage up to the edge of Hatta Dam. The German won three sprints and was the centre of attention on another after being punched by Astana’s Andriy Grivko as riders fought for position in the echelons on stage 3. Grivko was kicked out of the race for his actions.
This year's race follows a similar route, with the finish at Hatta Dam and the daily time bonuses likely to prove crucial in deciding the overall winner.
Kittel has moved from Quick-Step Floors to Katusha-Alpecin and will likely make his debut in his new colours in Dubai. Viviani will defend Quick-Step Floors colours after riding the Tour Down Under, while Cavendish, Kristoff, Groenewegen and Bouhanni will all look to start their seasons with a win on the flat, wide roads of Dubai. It will be fascinating to see how the teams adapt their sprint lead-outs for their new leaders.
The 2018 Dubai Tour gets underway with a 167km stage designed to showcase Dubai's signature construction projects, as well as the site of the 2020 Dubai Expo and the Al Qudra bike path. The stage finishes on the edge of the artificial archipelago of Palm Jumeirah.
Stage 2 brings the peloton away from Dubai and through four neighbouring emirates: Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al-Quwain and Ras Al Khaimah. The 190km route hugs the coastline in the second half of the stage, with the finish on Al Quawasim Corniche Road. Another 190km leg follows on stage 3, as the race travels from Dubai to the emirate of Fujairah, perched on the Indian Ocean coast.
Stage 4 provides the puncheurs with a rare opportunity to beat the sprinters on the steep ramps of Hatta Dam. That kick to the line is not the only obstacle on the 172km route, as the road pitches up towards 11 per cent on two short climbs in the finale. The final 200 metres before the finish, however, are where the difference will be made, and sprinters with designs on overall victory will need to hang tough as the gradient briefly touches 17 per cent.
The final stage is a rather more straightforward affair, taking place entirely within the city of Dubai. The 132km leg brings the race along the Dubai waterfront before the grandstand finale at City Walk.
Cyclingnews will have full coverage of the Dubai Tour, with race reports, photo galleries, interviews and news.