From Australia and Argentina in January to Africa and Asia in February, the international road season has been globe-trotting for quite some time now, prior to settling down into the more predictably Euro-centric schedule for much of the rest of the season.
But before that shift towards western Europe, the UAE Tour brings down the curtain on the first part of the season, with World Champion Remco Evenepoel the top-name racer for the overall classification for the Middle East’s only WorldTour event.
As we saw in the inaugural women’s race earlier this month, the overall battle is likely – barring crashes or crosswinds – to be decided in the two summit finishes and the team time trial, back after a four-year hiatus, there’s plenty more to enjoy in the seven-day stage race.
Four ultra-flat stages on mostly broad, well-surfaced highways make this, as Astana sprinter Mark Cavendish has observed, “a bit of a World Championships for sprinters.”
And apart from Cavendish himself, the presence of a plethora of top fastmen including Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe), Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Dstny), Dylan Groenewegen (Jayco-AlUla) and Fernando Gaviria (Movistar) and Tim Merlier (Soudal-Quick Step) all but ensures some epic bunch sprint battles.
Ahead of the race, Cyclingnews looks at some of the narratives likely to feature in the Middle East’s only WorldTour event.
Remco Evenepoel looks for first win in rainbow jersey
Ever since Remco Evenepoel turned pro he’s been in the media spotlight and just like at the Vuelta a España last year, a small army of Belgian cycling journalists is expected to descend on the UAE Tour to sate their compatriots’ voracious appetite for Evenepoel stories. Their dream home scenario, of course, would be if the UAE saw Evenepoel claim his first win in the rainbow bands.
How likely that is to happen, though, is hard to predict. Evenepoel’s last visit to the UAE Tour in 2019 as a neo-pro saw him shine on the Jebel Hafeet then quit after a bad crash, and his one race to date, at the Vuelta a San Juan, was a mixed bag of team success and a costly miscalculation of his own efforts on the Alto Colorado.
But then again, at San Juan his role was as much about helping in-house sprinter Tim Merlier to stage wins as it was about looking for victory in his own right. In UAE, his GC goals are likely going to take greater priority.
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