While the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked the cancellation of the Tour Down Under and the Vuelta a San Juan, the UAE Tour is on, with the seven-day race including three sprint and echelon opportunities, a nine-kilometre time trial, a finish atop Jebel Jais and a final mountain stage to the summit of Jebel Hafeet.
COVID-19 case numbers are reportedly rising in the UAE, with a vaccination pass obligatory in Abu Dhabi and a booster shot needed for anyone who was vaccinated longer than six months ago. The race will respect the new UCI medical protocol, which includes the 'non-pharmaceutical' measures against COVID-19 that were put into place in 2020: wearing masks, sanitising facilities and some pre-race PCR tests.
The UCI will also roll out a 'UCI Health Pass' and hope to convince teams with low vaccination rates to get everyone immunised. According to a December UCI presentation, 97 per cent of members of Women's WorldTeams members, 79 per cent of men's WorldTeam members, and 86 per cent of men's ProTeam members have been vaccinated. However, some teams had vaccination rates as low as 40 per cent.
The 2020 UAE Tour was one of the first races to be hit by the pandemic, with riders and staff from the Groupama-FDJ, Cofidis, Gazprom-RusVelo and UAE Team Emirates squads forced to quarantine after the final stage was cancelled.
"Thanks to the sincere efforts made by the competent authorities and their supervision of the application of all precautionary and preventive measures for the safety and health of all," Aref Al Awani, the general secretary of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council said when the race route and jerseys were officially presented.
"Once again, we welcome the world’s elite teams and riders to the launch of global races on the UCI’s agenda, hoping that the UAE Tour will be a gateway to the start of the season."
Pogačar won the 2021 UAE Tour and the race is again a major goal for the Slovenian as he makes his 2022 season debut. He will have support from new teammates Geroge Bennett and João Almeida as UAE Team Emirates attempt to win their home race for a second year.
According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, Egan Bernal will lead Ineos Grenadiers in the UAE Tour, with Filippo Ganna targeting the time trial and Elia Viviani the sprints. Tom Dumoulin is expected to lead Jumbo-Visma, while Sam Bennett and Aleksandr Vlasov will show off their new Bora-Hansgrohe colours, and Jack Haig will be an overall threat as he leads Bahrain Victorious. Other sprinters include Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) Dylan Groenewegen (BikeExchange-Jayco) and possibly Mark Cavendish (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl).
Bernal is currently training at altitude in Colombia but is expected to make his season debut at the four-day Tour de la Provence (February 10-13) before travelling to the UAE Tour.
Bernal and Pogačar have rarely clashed in major races but their careers are very similar and prodigious. Bernal won the 2019 Tour de France at just 22, but Pogačar then emerged to win the Tour in 2020 a day shy of his 22nd birthday, as Bernal suffered with his back problem. Bernal won the 2021 Giro d’Italia as Pogačar took a second Tour win last summer.
The UAE Tour could be the first of a series of battles before the two leaders and their 'super-teams' go head-to-head at the Tour de France.
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.
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