The third edition of the Dubai Tour is set to produce several sprint showdowns between the fastest riders in the world. The clash between Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) and Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep) will, arguably, be the biggest talking point of the four days of racing between Wednesday and Saturday.
No doubt, Elia Viviani (Team Sky), Andrea Guardini (Astana), Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida), Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo) and Matt Goss (One Procycling) will all want to take on Cavendish and Kittel. The names of Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo), Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) and Bradley Wiggins (WIGGINS) also stand out on the start list.
The uphill finish to the edge of Hatta Dam on stage three is expected to play a significant role in deciding the overall winner but so will time bonuses of 10, 6 and 4 seconds awarded at stage finishes, and bonuses seconds of 3,2 and 1 at the numerous intermediate sprints. Cavendish won two stages and the overall classification in 2015, and we can expect some fast and furious racing on the wide highways, and amongst the Dubai skyscrapers and desert landscapes.
The race starts in the same place for each of the four stages, at the Dubai Marina, with riders able to enjoy a leisurely walk to the start village from their luxury hotel overlooking the Palm Jumeirah. Some riders will travel to Dubai from Australia after riding the Tour Down Under; others will fly in from Europe to make their season debut. Some will stay on to ride the Tour of Qatar, or return a week later for the hillier Tour of Oman. Every rider will enjoy the expected temperatures of 25 degrees Celsius.
The four stages
Wednesday’s opening stage covers 179km and crosses the Dubai peninsula to finish on the opposite coast in the resort of Fujairah, on the Bay of Oman. The stage ends with two 6.6km circuits along the seafront. The gradual climb after 140km could spark some attacks but is unlikely to stop the sprinters’ teams taking charge of the race and setting up the first sprint showdown.
Stage two is also for the sprinters and finishes on the outer edge of the Palm Jumeirah, in the shadows of the Atlantis hotel. The 188km route twists and turns through various parts of downtown Dubai before a loop in the desert to visit the camel track. Kittel won here in 2014, with Viviani beating Cavendish there last year. The wind blowing off the sea is usually a factor, as is positioning before the final 360-degree turn with three kilometres to go.
Stage three should see some intense, aggressive racing in the final 50km and then on the 11 per cent average gradient to Hatta Dam. The road cuts left and right across the dessert and so crosswinds could also be a factor.
The hills here are rolling rather than steep but offer plenty of chances to attack and distance the sprinters in the fight for the race leader’s blue jersey. The finale up to Hatta Dam includes an ever-steepening gradient that starts at 4 per cent and ends with a lung-busting 16.7 per cent. Last year, John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) showed the first signs of his superb spring form by using his power to surge to the finish. He is absent this year after the recent training crash but the finish could be ideal for Modolo, Matteo Trentin (Etixx-QuickStep), Ben Swift (Team Sky) or even Cancellara – who showed his form by winning the hilly third race of the Challenge Mallorca.
The Dubai Tour ends in the city centre, in the shadows of the Burj Khalifa skyscraper, with a final 137km stage. It is flat but includes several twisting roads in the finale that will make positioning and lead out trains vital. The stage includes two intermediate sprints that could offer race-winning bonus seconds.
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Race organiser RCS Sport has the backing of the Dubai Sports Council and has attracted 10 WorldTour teams to this year’s Dubai Tour, with several other European outfits and local Continental squads making up the 16-team peloton.
Despite Giant-Alpecin being rocked by their recent training crash, the German WorldTour team is set to compete with six riders, led by Roy Curvers, with Americans Carter Jones and Caleb Fairly down to ride.
The clash between Cavendish and Kittel is the prize-fight of the Dubai Tour but will also reveal both riders’ early season form. Cavendish has spent the winter mixing his road training with work on the track, in his bid to secure a place in Great Britain’s track team for Rio. He did not finish the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race at the weekend but seems on form, with his new Dimension Data team quietly confident that he can be competitive in the sprints. Cavendish will also have the support of long-time lead out riders Bernhard Eisel and Mark Renshaw, and will no doubt be out to prove a point and land Dimension Data’s first victory of the season.
Kittel will make his debut in Etixx-Quickstep’s new dark blue colours. He will also be looking for answers and signs of form, following his illness-hit 2015 season and divorce from Giant-Alpecin. He will have the support of Tony Martin and Iljo Keisse but not Max Richeze, who is still injured after a crash at the Tour de San Luis.
Team Sky rode well as a team in the 2015 Dubai Tour and Viviani will have the backing of Swift, Andy Fenn, Lars Petter Nordhaug and Italian neo-pro Gianni Moscon. They could be the best lead out train in the race, if they time their efforts carefully. Nizzolo could also be a threat after several good placings at the Tour Down Under, as could Guardini.
The WIGGINS team secured an invitation to the Dubai Tour thanks to the presence of Bradley Wiggins. The 2012 Tour de France winner will probably be the centre of attention, but will no doubt roll along in the peloton as he prepares for the track, letting Owain Doull try his hand in the sprints.
With time bonuses so important, the overall winner will have to chase bonus seconds on each of the stages, and try to stay in contact on the stage to Hatta Dam. Cavendish could win again but could be distracted by his clash with Kittel and his desire to win a stage for Dimension Data. Gilbert and Cancellara could be outsiders for victory if they are ready to race hard for four consecutive stages.
Cyclingnews will provide extensive coverage of all the racing with interviews, news and exclusives during the four-day race.