Quick-Step Floors will charge into the inaugural WorldTour edition of the Abu Dhabi Tour this week hunting bunch-sprint stage wins with an on-form Marcel Kittel while pinning the team's general classification hopes on Julian Alaphilippe and Gianluca Brambilla.
New Zealand time trial champion Jack Bauer, Davide Martinelli, Fabio Sabatini, Pieter Serry and Petr Vakoc will join that trio in the four-day race that starts Thursday.
Kittel previously competed in the race in 2015 when it was on the calendar in October, finding himself unable to crack the top 10 on any of the stages near the end of his difficult final season with Giant-Alpecin. But he goes into this year's race fresh off having dominated this month's Dubai Tour, where he won three stages on his way to claiming the overall victory and the sprint jersey.
“We come to Abu Dhabi with a strong team, and our first goal is obviously to nab a stage win with Marcel," said sport director Geert Van Bondt. "The race has three flat stages, which means as many chances for Marcel, but we must keep in mind that in Abu Dhabi the wind could be an important factor."
Kittel will be tested by some of the sport's fastest men, including Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), Caleb Ewan (Orcia-Scott), Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal), Elia Viviani (Team Sky) and Niccolo Bonifazio (Bahrain-Merida).
With three of four stages favouring bunch sprints, the general classification will likely be decided during the stage 3 assault of Jebel Hafeet, an 11km climb averaging an 8 per cent gradient, but with double-digit pitches inside the last 3km.
“On the third day a mountain top finish awaits, and Julian, who proved in Dubai he’s in good condition, and Gianluca, who was in the top 10 here two years ago, will be our cards," Van Bondt said. "This way we’ll get to see where we stand before our March objectives.”
Quick-Step Floors for Abu Dhabi Tour: Julian Alaphilippe, Jack Bauer, Gianluca Brambilla, Marcel Kittel, Davide Martinelli, Fabio Sabatini, Pieter Serry, Petr Vakoc