Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) is expecting fireworks to happen on summit finish of Jebel Jais on the penultimate day of racing at the inaugural UAE Tour and was quietly confident about his chances of success.
The Abu Dhabi Tour included the finishes atop Jebel Hafeet, while the brutally steep Hatta Dam was part of the Dubai Tour; Jebel Jais is a new inclusion following the merging of the two events. At 5.4 per cent, the climb is not particularly steep but it's 20 kilometres long and this early in the season will surely test the riders. It is likely to be a deciding factor in the fight for overall victory.
"I don't think that anyone has seen the climb, so it's difficult to say, but it's 20k at a six per cent average so that's a proper Alpine finish so there will be some fireworks," Dumoulin said at the pre-race press conference on Saturday before Sunday's opening team time trial.
For Dumoulin and several other riders, the UAE Tour is the first race of the season. Since 2016, Dumoulin has started his season in the Middle East with the Tour of Oman and, in the last two seasons, the Abu Dhabi Tour. It's a later start than some of his rivals but it's been a good pathway for him in the past and he hopes it will come good in 2019.
"It was very good, yeah," Dumoulin said of his off-season.
"Like all the other years, holiday and then setting up easy. Building up with a training camp in Tenerife and then starting my season quite late here in the UAE, but it's worked out the last few years so hopefully it will do this year."
The UAE Tour will start with a 16km team time trial, which Team Sunweb have set their sights on. Though he has bigger goals later in the season, Dumoulin is adamant that the UAE Tour is not a holiday and he comes to the race with serious intentions.
With himself and Wilco Kelderman, who is set to help Dumoulin in the Grand Tours this season, the team has two options for the overall classification.
"It's a WorldTour race so it's not just a build-up, it's a race that I’d like to win or at least do well in the GC," said Dumoulin. "I've done the Abu Dhabi Tour quite a few times before but never the Dubai Tour, and now they're combined.
"I'm excited. I have done well in the past, last year not so well, but in the years before it was kind of nice. I really hope to win the GC with the team. Wilco Kelderman is also here in really good shape so we can play two cards."