Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) and Elia Viviani (Team Sky) have clashed on the road and track during the 2016 and their rivalry will continue to the very end of the season at this week's Abu Dhabi Tour.
The Abu Dhabi Tour route is expected to produce three high-speed finishes on Thursday, Friday and then Sunday's final stage on the Yas Marina motor racing circuit. Cavendish and Viviani will sprint shoulder to shoulder but will also have to watch out for Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal), John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin), Michael Matthews (Orica-Bike Exchange), Andrea Guardini (Astana), Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida), Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek Segafredo) and Jakub Mareczko (Wilier-Southeast).
Cavendish and Viviani fought in the sprints at the Dubai Tour in February, at the track world championships in March and then again in the omnium at the Rio Olympics. Cavendish sparked a crash that brought down the Italian but he got up to win the gold medal by dominating the final points race, forcing Cavendish to accept a silver medal.
Cavendish enjoyed huge success at the Tour de France by winning four sprint stages and won silver in the World Championships behind Peter Sagan. Viviani won two stages at the Abu Dhabi Tour in 2015. This year both have strong lead out trains with them in Abu Dhabi for the last big-name sprint battle of the season.
"To be back here racing is pretty special, I watched with envy as others raced last year. I'm looking forward to racing and contesting the three sprint stages," Cavendish said, remembering how he watched from the roadside in 2015 after damaging his shoulder at the Tour of Britain.
"We've got Bernie (Eisel), Mark Renshaw and and Youcef Reguigui for the lead, out, we've got a good set of guys here. In Jay Thompson and Mekseb Debesey, we've got two guys to ride on the front too. We'll have to be careful with our strategy because there are six-rider teams but it's the same for everyone."
Cavendish admitted that he is still struggling to overcome the disappointment of missing out on victory on Sunday. He got caught behind several of his rivals in the final three hundred metres and got through a gap too late to match Sagan's cleaner run and finishing speed. His experience of sprinting means he understands that smaller teams and lots of big-name sprint rivals should make for more linear sprinting this week at the Abu Dhabi Tour.
"Smaller teams make it difficult but there are also shorter stages and nice wide run-in to the sprints. There'll be a lot of guys going for them but there won't be a lot of leadout guys falling back. It's not like you're going to have to negotiate eight riders from five different teams. That does make it more simple in the finale."
Team Sky want to lead out the sprints
Viviani and Cavendish are not the friends they once were after a falling out in the omnium at the world championships and Viviani is keen to take Cavendish's scalp. His form is perhaps not as good as that of Cavendish at the moment but Viviani can count on a good lead out train. He revealed that Team Sky plans to lead out the sprints.
"I really want to win again on the road, it's a long time since my last win, from March at the Three Days of De Panne, when I beat Marcel Kittel," Viviani explained.
"We'll see how things go but I'm confident because I have a strong lead out to help me. Last year I had Ben Swift and Andy Fenn and this year we've got new guy Owain Doull, Fenn, Kwiatkowski and Danny Van Poppel. Doull is new but he's really ready to do a good job in the lead out. I hope they can put me in the best position with two hundred metres to go. If we have the legs its best to be at the front and I hope to be in the best position when I can.
"Last year I beat Sagan twice and he's strong sprinter but this year we've got Cav, Greipel. Degenkolb, Matthews and others. For sure I need to produce a perfect sprint to win here but it'd be great to end the season with a win."