“This is where we hope to get the ball rolling,” was how Mark Cavendish described his return to the UAE Tour where the British rider will ride his first WorldTour race, and second event of 2023, with new squad Astana Qazaqstan.
Speaking to reporters in a pre-race press conference, Cavendish pointed out that the depth of the sprinters’ field in the UAE Tour was “probably even higher than in the Tour de France”.
He also explained that one reason why he had wanted to take part this year because “it provides a perfect opportunity to hone and build the team to ride in the finals of the bunch sprints.
The week-long UAE Tour features four flat stages, starting on Monday’s opening leg to Al Mirfa and then on stages 4,5 and 6, all of which are expected to end in bunch sprints..
Cavendish was notably less communicative when asked about his winter, bluntly answering “No” when asked if he had been worried about perhaps having to retire given his enforced late search for a team following the collapse of the B&B Hotels project, to which he had been strongly linked.
The Briton was almost equally uncommunicative when asked if it had been a difficult few months over the winter, firing back to the journalist with the presumably rhetorical question.
“They were all right, thank you. How were your last couple of months? Mine were all right,” he said.
In terms of racing, Cavendish has won on multiple occasions in the UAE in the past, both in the Tour of Abu Dhabi and the Tour of Dubai as well as taking a stage in the UAE Tour itself last spring. And the 37-year-old was, he insisted, happy to be back in a race often referred to as an unofficial ‘sprinters World Championships’.
“It’s always an important race, especially for the sprinters, you know?” he said. “Of course, the climbers will win [overall] here with Jabal Hafeet and Jabel Jais, but in terms of all of the sprinters in one place at one time, there’s no other race like this in the world.
“So it’s important for us as sprinters and for our team and it’s good to try and get the ball rolling early in the year.”
With so many top fastmen – Caleb Ewan, Arnaud Demaré, Fernando Gaviria, Sam Bennett, and Tim Merlier, among others – assembled at UAE, Cavendish argued that the sprint field could be considered of a higher quality than even the Tour de France.
“Probably a higher concentration of sprinters here than in the Tour so it’s very, very important to us,” he said. “And on a personal level, it’s important, I spend a lot of time…
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