Roglic and Valverde go head to head on Jebel Jais for UAE Tour title - Preview

Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) faces one more major hurdle ahead of him in his quest to take the overall victory at the inaugural UAE Tour: the summit finish of Jebel Jais on stage 6 on Friday.

Roglic has led the general classification since Jumbo-Visma won the opening team time trial and says that it is down to his rivals to attack him if they want to take the red leader’s jersey.

"I think we can be confident and we will try to defend the jersey tomorrow [Friday]," said Roglic. "If you see the list of the guys that are here, there are a lot of really, really strong guys. We will try to focus the best on our job, do it well and protect the jersey on the last climb. It's not really on us; we don't really need to attack to make something on the climb. For sure, others will, and I will try to follow."

It seems fitting that the inaugural edition of the UAE Tour will be decided by the new climb of Jebel Jais. While Jebel Hafeet and Hatta Dam featured in both the Abu Dhabi and Dubai Tours, Jais has not previously been used in a race. The Jais is situated in the Hajjar Mountains to the north of the UAE and is the Emirates’ highest mountain at just under 2,000 metres.

The route will not go all the way up to the top of the mountain but will instead stop at 1,458 metres. It will still be no mean feat, particularly when we are only a few weeks into the new season, and it will certainly test the peloton.

Jebel Jais will come after some 160 kilometres of racing along flat roads, starting in Ajman – the smallest of the Emirates. Similar to Jebel Hafeet on stage 3, the flat run into the climb will ensure that there are plenty of fresh legs able to push a hard pace.

The climb is quite different to what the riders faced just a few days ago at twice the length of Jebel Hafeet. The gradient over the 20 kilometres is much steadier than Hafeet, however, with little variation from its average of five per cent. The maximum gradient, which comes in the final two kilometres of the climb, is nine per cent.

While the gradient is less punishing than Hafeet, the weather conditions could be more challenging this Friday. Jais is much more open and is prone to more wind, which could cause the overall contenders problems. Also, a 20-kilometre climb in February is nothing to be sniffed at.

Roglic sits in the driving seat as we head into this key stage, holding a 21-second lead over Alejandro Valverde. Roglic has looked calm and collected for most of the race but made a mistake attacking when he did on Jebel Hafeet. Valverde knew the climb from his victory at last year's Abu Dhabi Tour and used it to his advantage.

Valverde's attack was one of the few times that Roglic has cracked under pressure and it is the Spaniard who is likely to be his biggest challenger on Friday. The 21-second gap will be a big one for Valverde to bridge on these gradients, but we can expect him to give it a good go. It could have been closer but for a crash in the final six kilometres of stage 4 to Hatta Dam.

The fight for the title seems like it could be a two-way battle – unless something dramatic happens – but further down the general classification, David Gaudu is sitting in the final podium spot after a strong ride on Jebel Hafeet. Gaudu is 17 seconds behind Valverde and could climb the standings if he has a bad day. However, he will also have to look out behind him with Emanuel Buchmann just eight seconds back, while 21 seconds separates the rest of the top 10.

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