Summit finishes at Jebel Hafeet and Jebel Jais, combined with a 13km individual time trial, will define the fight for overall victory at the UAE Tour in February, with plenty of incentive for sprinters to make the trip to the Middle East, too.
The route for the first race on the 2021 WorldTour calendar, taking place across five of the seven United Arab Emirates from February 21-27, was unveiled on Wednesday morning.
Despite a wave of race cancellations and postponements in Europe, it appears to be full steam ahead for the race that was brought to a premature halt last year due to the pandemic.
Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and five-time champion Chris Froome (Israel Start-Up Nation) have been named among the provisional starters, along with Tour of Flanders champion Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix).
Four of the seven stages are expected to culminate in bunch sprints, with Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal), Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe), and Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) among the sprinters already confirmed to race.
The race starts out in Abu Dhabi with a flat 177km run along the coast into Al Mirfa, but the GC contenders will be called into action the following day for a 13km time trial loop on Al Hudyriat Island. World time trial champion Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) is set to start as the heavy favourite for stage honours.
Stage 3 sees the first of the two summit finishes, the 162km route making its way to Jebel Hafeet, which has become the marquee climb of the UAE Tour, and the Abu Dhabi Tour before it.
The 10km climb averages 6.8 per cent on wide, well-surfaced roads, with a dip down and a tight left-hand bend making for an interesting dash to the line if riders get there together.
Pogačar pipped Alexey Lutsenko there last year when it was used twice, the other occasion seeing a solo win – and eventual overall title – for Adam Yates, who returns this year with his new Ineos Grenadiers team.
Stage 4 is the longest of the race at 204km, leaving Abu Dhabi take in the Ras al-Khaimah and Umm Al-Quwain emirates, with a coastal run-in to an expected bunch sprint on Al Marjan Island.
It’s back uphill on stage 5 for the second summit finish of the race, this time at Jebel Jais. It’s a long climb, rising to 1491m over 20km, but it’s a consistent gradient of less than six per cent. Primož Roglič won the only time the climb has been used, pipping Tom Dumoulin and David Gaudu as the top 10 finished within five seconds of one another.
The overall title is likely to be decided at the top of Jebel Jais, as the final two stages are suited to the sprinters. Stage 6 takes place in Dubai, leaving the coast to showcase the 86km Al-Qudra Cycle Track, before returning to the city for a sprint finish at Palm Jumeirah.
The race returns to Abu Dhabi for its final flourish, starting on Yas Island and finishing along the city’s breakwater after 147km.
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