The Abu Dhabi Tour returns next month — from February 21-25 — with a new and improved route that will guarantee excitement until the dying moments, with a time trial added the day before the grand finale atop Jebel Hafeet.
The fourth edition of the capital showpiece — the only WorldTour event taking place in the Middle East — will have an extra day, with a time trial introduced to make the Abu Dhabi Tour a five-stage race for the first time.
The time trial will take place on day four of the event on Al Maryah Island, with the mountain stage that takes the riders to Al Ain and up Jebel Hafeet now placed at the end of the race to make sure the climbers and puncheurs can fight for the General Classification jersey at the culmination of the five-day cycling extravaganza.
A stellar line-up has been confirmed for this fourth edition, with Abu Dhabi Tour ambassador Mark Cavendish joined by the likes of current Giro d’Italia champion Dutchman Tom Dumoulin from Team Sunweb, Vuelta a Espana winner Italian Fabio Aru and 2017 Abu Dhabi Tour winner Rui Costa both from UAE Team Emirates.
A total of 17 of the 18 WorldTour teams are set to start, with cyclists representing over 50 different nationalities.
“Last season was horrible for me. I had a lot of health problems, but the one win I got was here in Abu Dhabi – a very special place for me and in certain terms, a second home for me and for my family too,” said Cavendish, who attended the unveiling of the new route in the UAE capital on Tuesday.
“Last year, I was very proud to wear the Red Jersey as leader at the end of stage one and two, and win the final Green Jersey for the second year consecutively. I hope to repeat that success in 2018 and to be on the final podium again.”
The Abu Dhabi Tour is organised by Abu Dhabi Sports Council in collaboration with RCS Sport.
“We’re working to make the race more appealing to fans and riders, and this upgrade represents a unique opportunity to make the challenge for the overall standings stronger and not only related to the mountain stage,” said Aref Al Awani, Abu Dhabi Sports Council secretary general.
Here’s a look at the Abu Dhabi Tour’s five stages…
STAGE 1 – Wednesday February 21 – Al Dhafra stage (189km)
The opening stage follows its traditional route, starting and finishing in Madinat Zayed, and running entirely through the Abu Dhabi desert.
STAGE 2 – Thursday February 22 – Yas Island stage (154km)
The stage will start at Yas Mall before taking the riders through Al Bahia and the Khalifa Port.
STAGE 3 – Friday February 23 – Nation Towers stage (133km)
A tour of the capital, featuring as many landmarks as possible and the probable bunch sprint will take place on Al Marina, close to the Big Flag.
STAGE 4 – Saturday February 24- Al Maryah Island stage (11.8km)
Taking place on Al Maryah Island, Abu Dhabi’s business and lifestyle destination, stage four is the very first time trial to ever be included on the Abu Dhabi Tour agenda. It’s a simple route, with just two bends and a single U-turn, setting up an extremely fast and spectacular stage.
STAGE 5 – Sunday February 25 – Al Ain Stage (199km)
The grand finale delivers the mountain stage ending atop Jebel Hafeet. The climbers and puncheurs will fight for the general classification jersey with an uphill finish at an altitude of 1,025m.
Reigning champion Rui Costa, Giro d’Italia winner Tom Dumoulin, former Vuelta a Espana champion Fabio Aru and superstar sprinter Mark Cavendish are just some of the marquee names set to participate in next month’s Abu Dhabi Tour.
Other world-class sprinters in the peloton include Italian Elia Viviani and Germans Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel.
A total of 17 UCI WorldTeams and three UCI Professional Continental Teams will start the Abu Dhabi Tour, the only Middle Eastern race on the 2018 UCI WorldTour calendar. Each team will consist of seven riders.
Here’s a look at the Abu Dhabi-bound squads…
UAE TEAM EMIRATES – UAE
Known for 20 years as Lampre, last season the team was rebranded as UAE Emirates. Managed by the former Italian champion Giuseppe Saronni, in 2017 the team recorded 19 victories, including one stage at the Giro d’Italia (Jan Polanc) and one at the Vuelta a España (Matej Mohoric). At Abu Dhabi look out for the former World Champion Rui Costa, winner of 2017 Abu Dhabi Tour, and the Italian climber Fabio Aru.
AG2R LA MONDIALE – FRA
AG2R Prévoyance joined the Chazal-Vanille et Mûre team (formed in 1992 by Vincent Lavenu) as co-partner in 1997 and became principal partner three years later: in 2008 the team was renamed AG2R La Mondiale. Over 400 wins to date, 23 of them earned at Grand Tours: 18 at the Tour de France, three at the Vuelta a España, and two at the Giro d’Italia. 16 victories in 2017 include a stage at the Tour de France with Romain Bardet, one at the Tour de Suisse (Domenico Pozzovivo) and the Tre Valli Varesine win for Alexandre Geniez.
ASTANA PRO TEAM – KAZ
Astana is part of the Astana President’s Professional Sports Club, formed in 2012 by the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, N.A. Nazarbayev. Astana’s palmares includes an Olympic gold medal (Alexander Vinokourov, now General Manager, won the Men’s Road Race, London 2012), eight Grand Tour victories, 41 Grand Tour stage wins. Last year Astana Pro Team recorded 18 wins, including one stage at the Tour de France with Alexey Lutsenko. Under the Abu Dhabi spotlights will be the Colombian Miguel Ángel López.
BAHRAIN-MERIDA – BRN
Founded in 2016, Bahrain-Merida is a team supported by a consortium of businesses and partners from the island of Bahrain and His Highness Sheikh Nasser. In its inaugural season Bahrain-Merida achieved 12 wins (including Il Lombardia, the Italian Monument race) and two prestigious podiums with Vincenzo Nibali, third at the Giro d’Italia (behind Tom Dumoulin and Nairo Quintana) and second at the Vuelta a España (behind Chris Froome). For Abu Dhabi the roster could include the Italian Domenico Pozzovivo.
BMC RACING TEAM – USA
This UCI WorldTour team, headquartered in Santa Rosa, California, was formed in 2006. Last year BMC Racing Team recorded 48 race wins, the most important being Paris-Roubaix and the Gent Wevelgem won by the Belgian Greg Van Avermaet, the Tour Down Under and the Tour of Romandie both won by Richie Porte and the Vuelta a España’s Team Time Trial.
BORA-HANSGROHE – GER
The UCI Continental Team founded in 2010 as NetApp, was upgraded the following season to Pro Continental status and enjoyed its Paris-Roubaix and Tour de Suisse debuts. Last season Bora-Hansgrohe reached WorldTour status and achieved 34 victories, including four Grand Tour stages and the UCI Road World Championships in Bergen, Norway, with Peter Sagan.
LOTTO SOUDAL – BEL
The oldest sponsor in the peloton, Lotto became co-sponsor of Tönissteiner in 1984, and assumed the team’s main sponsorship a year later, while Soudal joined as the second name sponsor in 2015. The team now has more than 900 wins in its palmares, including 35 Tour de France stage victories. Last year Lotto Soudal recorded 25 wins including a Giro d’Italia stage for Andrè Greipel and four Vuelta a España stage wins with three different riders: Tomasz Marczynski (2), Sander Armée and Thomas De Gendt. For Abu Dhabi Tour look out for the experienced German sprinter André Greipel.
MITCHELTON-SCOTT – AUS
This Australian professional road race cycling team launched in 2011 joined the WorldTour from 2012, and also has a women’s squad. The men’s team’s palmares includes the 2012 Milan-Sanremo, the 2014 Liège-Bastogne-Liège and three Tour Down Under titles (2012, 2014, 2016) – all courtesy of Simon Gerrans – along with the very first Abu Dhabi Tour overall victory: Esteban Chaves in 2015, and a Paris-Roubaix with Mathew Hayman. Last year’s Mitchelton-Scott wins include the Yas Marina stage at the Abu Dhabi Tour and stage 7 at the Giro d’Italia (both won by Caleb Ewan). The roster for the 2018 Abu Dhabi Tour could include Caleb Ewen, winner of last year’s Yas Marina stage.
MOVISTAR TEAM – ESP
Movistar is one of the most established squads. It was founded in 1980 as Reynolds (till 1989), then became very famous as Banesto thanks to the multiple victories of Miguel Indurain (1990-2004), then Caisse d’Epargne (2005, with Illes Baleares to 2010), becoming Movistar from 2011. From a total of 883 various victories, 110 are Grand Tour stages while 14 are Grand Tour overall wins (seven in the Tour de France, three in the Giro d’Italia, and four in the Vuelta a España). Last year Movistar Team achieved 31 wins, including the Monument race Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the other Ardennes classic, La Flèche Wallonne, both courtesy of the Spaniard Alejandro Valverde – who is the Movistar Team rider to watch in the next Abu Dhabi Tour.
QUICK – STEP FLOORS – BEL
This WorldTour team is based in Wevelgem, Belgium, the heartland of Flemish cycling. At the helm is Patrick Lefevere, one of the most successful managers in the history of cycling. Since 2003, the team has recorded more than 600 victories and last year’s achievements include five stages at the Tour de France, five at the Giro d’Italia, six at the Vuelta a España, the Ronde van Vlaanderen and the Amstel Gold Race with Philippe Gilbert, Paris-Tours with Matteo Trentin. Elia Viviani and the winner of 2017’s White Jersey for Best Young Rider, Julian Alaphilippe are the Quick – Step Floors riders to watch in the 2018 Abu Dhabi Tour.
TEAM DIMENSION DATA – RSA
Founded in 2007 and originally known as MTN–Qhubeka, Dimension Data became the first ever African cycling team to gain a WorldTour licence, in 2016. Their palmares includes a Milan-Sanremo win (Gerald Ciolek in 2013), seven Tour de France stages, one Vuelta a España stage, one Giro d’Italia stage, and two Tour of Britain overall classification victories (Edvald Boasson Hagen, 2015; Steve Cummings, 2016). The 2018 roster is built around its main sprinter Mark Cavendish, who, last year at the Abu Dhabi Tour won one stage and and the Green Jersey (General Classification by points) for the second year consecutively.
TEAM EF EDUCATION FIRST – DRAPAC P/B CANNONDALE – USA
Slipstream Sports was founded in 2005 by Jonathan Vaughters and Doug Ellis. In 2016 the Australian Michael Drapac became a co-owner of the team. The team’s major achievements include the 2012 Giro d’Italia with Ryder Hesjedal, the 2011 Paris-Roubaix (Johan Vansummeren), the 2013 Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the 2014 Giro di Lombardia – both courtesy of the Irishman Daniel Martin. 14 wins last year, plus a prestigious podium at the Tour de France with Rigoberto Uran, finishing just 54 seconds behind race winner Chris Froome. For Abu Dhabi the Frenchman Pierre Rolland should be included in the team roster.
TEAM KATUSHA – ALPECIN – SUI
Katusha was originally a Russian-licensed cycling team, becoming a Swiss outfit in 2016. Team Katusha Alpecin’s palmares boasts 22 Grand Tour stage wins. Among last year’s 17 victories, the major achievement was the Tour de Suisse General Classification with Simon Špilak. The Katusha Alpecin roster for the Abu Dhabi Tour will include the German sprinter Marcel Kittel and the Russian all-rounder Ilnur Zakarin. Last year Kittel won the second – the Nation Towers – stage, and will be one of the major contenders for the Green Jersey of the points classification. Zakarin, who podiumed at the 2017 Vuelta a España will race for the General Classification.
TEAM LOTTO NL – JUMBO – NED
This Dutch cycling team was founded in 1984 under the name Kwantum, anchored by Jan Raas, and since 2015 the head sponsor has been Lotto-Jumbo. Last year Team Lotto NL-Jumbo recorded 26 wins; the most prestigious being the final stage of the Giro d’Italia with Jos van Emden and two Tour de France stages with Primoz Roglic (Stage 17) and Dylan Groenewegen on the Champs-Élysées (Stage 21).
TEAM SKY – GBR
The team was founded in 2009 with the aim to win the Tour de France within five years… and the first Grand Tour victory came in 2012 at the Grand Boucle with Bradley Wiggins, soon followed by four more from Chris Froome (2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017). Last year Team Sky recorded 34 wins, including two Grand Tours (Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana with Chris Froome) and various classic races courtesy of Michal Kwiatkowski: the Pole won Strade Bianche, Milan-Sanremo and Clásica Ciclista San Sebastian.
TEAM SUNWEB – GER
Founded in 2005, this German WorldTour team is sponsored by the international tour operator Sunweb. The team’s major achievements include 39 Grand Tour stage wins (15 at the Tour de France, nine at the Giro d’Italia, and 15 at the Vuelta a España), the 2013 Paris-Tours victory, and in 2015 both the Milan-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix classics. Last year for the first time in history a Team Sunweb rider won the Giro d’Italia (Tom Dumoulin) and, at the end of the year, the German-licensed team won the Team Time Trial at the World Championship in Bergen, Norway. At the Abu Dhabi Tour watch out for Tom Dumoulin.
TREK SEGAFREDO – USA
Founded in 2011 as Leopard Trek, this US team’s biggest achievements are the Vuelta a España victory by Chris Horner in 2013, two Tours of Flanders and a Paris-Roubaix win, thanks to Fabian Cancellara. Last year’s victories included one Tour de France stage with Bauke Mollema and one at the Vuelta a España with Alberto Contador.
Many of the best riders on the planet have confirmed their participation in the race, with names such as last year’s Abu Dhabi Tour winner Rui Costa, Giro d’Italia winner Tom Dumoulin, former Vuelta a España winner Fabio Aru and a number of other top-class contenders for the final General Classification victory. Among the sprinters we’ll see the very finest from the WorldTour peloton going shoulder to shoulder, wheel to wheel, including the Manxman Mark Cavendish, the Italian Elia Viviani and the Germans Marcel Kittel and André Greipel.
17 UCI WorldTeams and three UCI Professional Continental Teams will start the Abu Dhabi Tour, the only Middle Eastern race on the 2018 UCI WorldTour calendar. Each team will consist of seven riders.
UCI PROFESSIONAL CONTINENTAL TEAMS
BARDIANI CSF – ITA
Founded in 1982 by Bruno Reverberi, Bardiani-CSF has raced the Giro d’Italia 34 times and includes 25 stage wins in its palmares. Last year the team achieved four wins. The Abu Dhabi roster will include the sprinter Andrea Guardini, winner of the very first Abu Dhabi Tour stage in 2015.
GAZPROM – RUSVELO – RUS
Founded in 2012, Pro Continental team Gazprom-RusVelo has a roster comprising 100% of Russian riders. The team has registered more than 60 race wins to 2017, including one Grand Tour stage at the 2016 Giro d’Italia with Alexander Foliforov’s ITT. Last season the Russian team recorded two victories.
TEAM NOVO NORDISK – USA
This global sports team made up entirely from athletes with diabetes comprises more than 100 cyclists, triathletes and runners, from 20 countries, and is spearheaded by the world’s first all-diabetes professional cycling team, based in the USA. Founded in 2005 by Phil Southerland and Joe Eldridge, Team Novo Nordisk’s mission is to inspire, educate and empower people affected by diabetes. The cycling team has amassed more than 30 victories since 2008.
UAE Team Emirates will embark on their second UCI World Tour season this week, heading to Australia as the team tackle the Santos Tour Down Under from January 16-21.
Representing the UAE colours and making his Santos Tour Down Under debut, is former World Champion, Rui Costa, alongside teammates Matteo Bono, Simone Consonni, Roberto Ferrari, Marco Marcato, Manuele Mori and Diego Ulissi, the latter producing some of the strongest displays for UAE Team Emirates in the team’s 2017 debut season.
The Santos Tour Down Under was first staged in 1999 and became a prestigious UCI World Tour event in 2008 becoming the first race to be staged outside of cycling’s traditional European home.
This year marks the 20th anniversary for the race, now synonymous with riders looking to get their campaign off to a winning start and pick up the seasons’ first honours.
— @UAE-TeamEmirates (@TeamUAEAbuDhabi) January 6, 2018
Spectators can expect to see competitive rides, especially from sprint specialists who may look to make an early season statement and take advantage of the flatter roads across the opening two stages.
Stage One’s 145km route begins in the historic Port Adelaide before riders head north on the Port River Expressway to the finish in Lyndoch.
Stage Two, a 148.6km race through the Adelaide Hills will see the peloton navigate three laps of the leafy suburb of Stirling before what could be a bunched sprint finish.
Stages Three (146.5km), Four (128.2km) and Five (151.5km) will draw out the climb specialists, who will contest each stages’ Category One climb in a bid to be crowned the Subaru King of the Mountain.
The final stage will see riders compete in a short 90km route through the streets of Adelaide before finishing in front of a packed crowd opposite the iconic Adelaide Oval Cricket Ground.
Speaking ahead of the opening race of the 2018 UCI World Tour season, UAE Team Emirates’ Rui Costa said: “For the first time in my career I’ll be participating in the Tour Down Under. I’m well aware that I will end up next to riders who will already be in great shape, especially the Australians. It will be interesting to see the impact of our winter training and hopefully we will have a good pedalling rhythm. This will be the beginning of a long season for me.”
UAE Team Emirates’ Diego Ulissi commented: “Once again the 2018 season starts for me in Australia in a race where I have always experienced perfect riding conditions. The calibre of competition is going to be high, especially on the two stages with climb finishes and will serve as a good testing ground for the season ahead.”