DUBAI (VN) — The inaugural Dubai Tour is drawing an elite field that’s the envy of any race on the calendar.
The UCI Asia Tour stop will play host this week to two world champions, the world’s fastest sprinters, classics stars, and grand tour winners. The lone major name missing is Chris Froome (Sky).
Against a top field, reigning world time trial champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) is making no bones about his intentions across a four-stage profile that fits him well and includes an opening-day time trial that could put him into the leader’s jersey.
“I’ve come here to try to win this race, although it isn’t going to be simple,” Martin said Tuesday in a pre-race press conference. “The crosswinds could play a decisive role, and first, I’ll have to ride a really good time trial.”
Joining Martin will be a top sprinter’s team built around Mark Cavendish. The Dubai Tour sees Cavendish re-united with ace leadout man Mark Renshaw for the first time since the 2011 season.
“It’s exciting to have Mark Renshaw and Alessandro Petacchi riding for me. Together with Tony Martin, they make a formidable train,” Cavendish said. “Hopefully Tony will win the time trial, then there should be three sprint stages. With a strong and motivated team, we’ll be targeting all of them.”
At least two stages are well-suited for a sprint finish, though strong crosswinds that are typical for the region this time of year can wreak havoc on a peloton that’s just stretching its legs after a long winter.
Cavendish will be locking horns with Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) for the first time since their last head-to-head sprint down the Champs-Élysées in last year’s Tour de France.
Kittel has already won one race, taking the win at the People’s Choice Classic ahead of the Santos Tour Down Under last month, and will be looking to keep the ball rolling.
“I’ve already been here a few days, and I’ve really enjoyed myself so far. The Dubai skyline is amazing when you see it from the desert,” Kittel said. “I don’t think that sprint finishes are guaranteed; there is plenty of wind out there, and it could dictate otherwise.”
The Dubai Tour positions itself ahead of the Tour of Qatar and the Tour of Oman, two established races that have helped put the region on the map for riders seeking mild weather and five-star accommodations for quality early-season training and racing.
Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) will make his season debut Wednesday, and said he’s been relishing the warm temperatures, which have pushed into high 80s Fahrenheit, after a long European winter.
“Many of my colleagues have already been competing in sunny Australia and Argentina,” Cancellara said. “I’ve been in Switzerland all this time, so it is good to come here and ride in the heat.”
Behind the time trial specialists and sprinters are some other top names putting in some early-season racing miles, but they admit the course isn’t for them to win.
“This is my first time in Dubai. I really wanted to get to know the place. It is very different to what I’m used to,” said world champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida). “The race doesn’t really suit my characteristics, but I’ll take any opportunity that arises.”
Defending Giro d’Italia champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) is back in the saddle despite a crash at the Tour de San Luís last month. Nibali, who is aiming to take on Froome at the Tour de France this summer, said he’s far from winning form.
“Dubai is a new territory for professional cycling. Sagan is here, Cancellara is here, the big names. So from day one, the Dubai Tour looks like it is a great success,” Nibali said. “I have had a few days rest at home after a small accident I had in Argentina. I’m here looking for rhythm. There is a time trial, where I will try to do well, and otherwise it is a race for sprinters, and we have two in (Jacopo) Guarnieri and (Andrea) Guardini.”