The quality of riders who will be in action at the inaugural Abu Dhabi Tour was evident at Tuesday's pre-race press conference attended by new world champion Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) Vincenzo Nibali and Fabio Au (Astana), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge), Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin), Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Elia Viviani (Team Sky) Tom Boonen (Etixx-Quickstep) and Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin).
Mark Cavendish is the official ambassador for the Abu Dhabi and also attended the press conference despite not being able to race due to undergoing surgery on his shoulder just two weeks ago.
Also in action at Abu Dhabi are Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge), Sacha Modolo, Rui Costa and Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) and Ben Swift (Team Sky), with smaller teams such as Bora Argon 18, MTN-Qhubeka, Wiggins, Drapac from Australia and local squad Skydive Dubai no doubt keen to cause them some problems and grab a place in the spotlight during the four days of racing.
The racing begins on Thursday with two flat stages perfect for the sprinters, with stage three to Jebel Hafeet ending with an 11km, 7.5% gradient climb, which will undoubtedly decide the overall classification. Sunday's final stage will offer a spectacular finale with the riders racing on the Yas Island motor racing circuit at sunset. It is the same circuit that will soon host the final race of the Formula One season.
The pits of the circuit are hosting the teams riding the Abu Dhabi Tour and riders headed for a training ride from the Yas Island circuit on Tuesday morning.
Peter Sagan rode in his new rainbow jersey for the first time and he took centre stage at the press conference.
"Its going to be nice racing in the rainbow jersey in Abu Dhabi. It's difficult to understand how it feels being world champion after you've dreamt about it and worked hard for it. It's something very different to what I've done in the rest of my life. I'm very proud to have this jersey," he said.
After experiencing temperatures of 36C during the ride and perhaps seeing similar or even higher temperatures forecast for later in the week, Sagan called out for better rules for extreme racing conditions. He seemed unaware that the UCI recently approved an Extreme Weather Protocol for 2016.
"After a crazy week it will maybe be a hard race with the long climb and the very hot weather, which I don't like…" he said. "I don't understand why we don't have rules for weather conditions. Cooler weather would be better for everyone."
Sagan spoke further after the press conference, confirming he is not afraid to be a spokesman for the peloton during his time as world champion.
"We have some organisations that protect us. But I think it's very dangerous when temperatures are up near 40C. I had a bad experience with a former teammate at Cannondale, who crashed in the heat and had a lot of burns. He stopped riding afterwards. After I asked if this is cycling or what?"
Editor note: Sagan's Cannondale teammate Mauro Da Dalto collapsed in the final kilometres of stage 2 of the 2013 Tour of California in Palm Springs and suffered third degree burns to his backside and required reconstructive surgery. His contract with Cannondale was not renewed. With his name turning up in the Mantova investigation, Da Dalto never found a new team and quit racing.
Sprinters eye stage success Nibali ready to lead Astana in pursuit of overall victory
The other riders at the press conference were more diplomatic when questioned about their hopes and chances at the Abu Dhabi Tour.
Like all the team leader's Nibali flew business class to Abu Dhabi and seemed ready to race hard for one last time, with support from Fabio Aru and Diego Rosa perhaps giving him an edge on his rivals.
"I'm very happy to race here," Nibali said, speaking in English for the first time in a press conference. "It's the last race of the season but my form is good after Lombardia. I hope do well and both I and Fabio Aru good for stages, the key climb and the overall classification. The GC is an important goal for the season."
Kittel admitted he will be riding for his Giant-Alpecin teammates Luka Mezgec and Albert Timmer before thinking about his future with Etixx-QuickStep.
"I have to be realistic, 2015 was not a great year but that's how it is," the German said. "I wasn't able to build any shape to be competitive enough for this race. I'll start and enjoy my last race with my teammates. The most important thing is to make a sprint happen but it probably won't be with me."
Other sprinter contenders include Viviani, Andrea Guardini (Astana), Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida), Juan Jose Lobato (Movistar), Matthews, Theo Bos (MTN-Qhubeka) and Ben Swift (Team Sky).
Boonen could also be a threat and the Belgian is hoping for some strong desert winds to spark some echelon racing.
"The wind I also an ally for our team, we've specialised in these conditions in the last few years always," he said. "But it's hard to predict how the race will go because it's the first edition. We need to get to know the roads and see what happens. I feel good but I've had a busy week flying back from the States. But I think we've got time to recover before Thursday and then everything will be okay."
Following his victory at Il Lombardia, Vincenzo Nibali is arguably the favourite for overall victory. His rivals include Dumoulin and Valverde. However the Spaniard played down his chances and seems ready to celebrate his season after already winning the WorldTour rankings yet again.
Dumoulin was more upbeat about his chances.
"I've hope I've recovered from the Vuelta, It's been a hard last two months but I still good. I hope to do well but it's all about the legs… and the heat. It's going to be demanding after coming from Europe. We'll see what happens."
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