UAE Team Emirates will be aiming for stage wins and the overall General Classification glory when they take on the iconic Paris-Nice race this week.
Starting on Sunday, March 4, and finishing a week later on Sunday, March 11, the team has announced one of its strongest line-ups of the season and includes former world champion and Abu Dhabi Tour 2017 winner Rui Costa, Tour de France stage winner Dan Martin and Abu Dhabi Tour 2018 stage winner, Alexander Kristoff.
The riders will be supported by seasoned pros Rory Sutherland and Ben Swift, with the young duo of Sven Erik Bystrom and Oliviero Troia gaining valuable experience in one of the UCI World Tour’s most competitive races.
Sports Directors Joxean Matxin and Philippe Mauduit will guide the riders throughout the seven-day race, with support from their colleague Simone Pedrazzini.
Commenting on his second appearance for UAE Team Emirates, Irishman Martin said: “I’m feeling good heading to Paris-Nice. In Algarve, I had good days and bad days but it was the perfect way to get the legs and body going but also to start working with my new team mates, both riders and staff.
“Paris-Nice is one of the hardest races on the calendar because there is no easy day. The race can be lost every day, as we saw last year. On paper the first stages seem easier but then there is the possibility of bad weather and crosswinds.
“Of course the time trial and mountain top finish on stage seven will see the biggest time gaps and the race will likely be won there, but what makes Paris-Nice hard is the concentration and endurance to not lose the race on the other stages, but also save enough energy to be good when it counts.
“My place on the podium at Paris-Nice last year was my first big result, so I’m definitely back this year to contest the GC, but of course I need to survive the first days and then we will see the situation after the time trial.”
It’s been an encouraging start to life with the team for reigning European road race champion, Kristoff, whose presence in Paris-Nice will be his fourth appearance for his new team.
The Norwegian, who won the opening stage of the Abu Dhabi Tour, said: “There won’t be many opportunities for sprint finishes and the route will be difficult each day. I’m going to try and take advantage of every opportunity I get.
“I’m getting into better and better shape and the victories I achieved in Oman and Abu Dhabi are motivating me. Paris-Nice will be especially useful to continue improving my fitness, as I look forward to Milano-San Remo and the Belgian Classics.”
Riders will start in the Paris suburb of Chatou as they take to the first stage and a 135km course that sees the peloton take on three, category three climbs, one of which is the ascent finish at Meudon.
Stage 2 will be an opportunity for the sprinters to make their mark on the race with a flat 187.5km route which could be the only stage to end in a bunched sprint finish.
A gruelling 210km awaits riders on Stage 3, one of the longest on the UCI World Tour, tackling three, category three climbs before arriving in Chatel-Guyon.
Stage 4 will bring out the time trial specialists, whilst Stage 5 will be the first considerable test on rider’s legs. The 165km route from Salon-de-Provence to Sisteron features a category two climb, followed by a category one and then two category three climbs.
There will be no let up for riders on Stage 6 either, as the penultimate race of the tour sees the group navigate a 198km route that favours the climb specialists, with four category two climbs and one category one climb.
The final stage could provide viewers with one of the most thrilling days of riding of the season so far with the peloton set to battle a 175km route from Nice to Valdeblore La Colmiane.
Any fatigued riders could be found out here, with the route featuring an early category two climb at 10km, before a category one climb at the mid-point of the race. Two category two climbs will test the riders’ strength, before coming into the final 10km and attacking a category one ascent finish.
To find out more about UAE Team Emirates, visit uaeteamemirates.com.
He won plaudits from teammates and commentators alike on his WorldTour debut, but James Knox was just pleased his bow at the elite level didn’t go horribly wrong and uncover his faults as a cyclist.
The 22-year-old British rider recorded a very creditable 64th finish in the Abu Dhabi Tour’s General Classification on Sunday – better than half of the 132-man field at the third UCI WorldTour race of the 2018 season.
He enjoyed a best finish of 49th on the final stage ascent of Jebel Hafeet – 5mins 25secs behind stage and overall winner Alejandro Valverde – which helped him finish 13th in the young rider category.
A stunning second place in the Under-23 category at 2017’s Liege-Bastogne-Liege race was enough to convince Quick-Step Floors CEO Patrick Lefevere to sign him from UCI Continental Team Wiggins last September – having been on the Belgian team’s radar all year.
But before making his bow on the big stage in the Emirates, Knox admitted he was anxious not to make any mistakes on his debut.
“Before coming here one of the things I would have been anxious about was how I rode for the team at the front of the race,” the Cumbria native told Sport360.
“It’s not something I’ve had to do before and I’m quite small so I’m not that powerful. I guess I didn’t really want to get told on the radio ‘James, you need to be down the front now’.
“And not being able to do that, which was my worst nightmare. Being at the elite level but feeling like I’m not cutting it.
“I’ve been able to do what’s being asked of me, everyone seems to be happy with what I’ve done so it’s a huge relief and hopefully something to build on. I’ve got a lot of good races coming up and this has been a great place to start.”
Knox didn’t just make up the numbers for a strong Quick-Step side selected for Abu Dhabi. He started putting in some mammoth turns on the front, drawing attention with domestique performances that helped Elia Viviani to one stage win.
“I’m loving it at the minute,” he said.
“It’s my first race so I’m still settling in to the team but so far they’ve been happy with what I’ve been doing. We won the second stage so that was an amazing feeling, to be part of a winning team and to feel a part of it.
“I know I wasn’t the last man for Elia or anything special but I did a bit of work during the stage and the team savours the victories which is really nice. They win a lot but don’t take it for granted. We all had a little celebration after and it was really special.”
After Viviani – the 2016 Olympic Games omnium champion – won Stage 2 on Thursday from Yas Mall to Yas Beach, the Italian heaped praise on Knox in his post-race interviews.
Knox helped pull the second echelon group back up to the first group on a chaotic day of racing heavily affected by crosswinds. His work gave Viviani hopes of victory, moving to the front of the race to prevent further attacks in the final 20km.
And Knox admitted Viviani and the rest of the team – including Fabio Sabatini and Julian Alaphilippe – have welcomed him with open arms.
“It’s been an amazing experience,” he added.
“You have the idea some of the top guys might be a little stand-offish or not have much respect for the young guys, but that’s not the case at all. The bigger the name on the team the more time they’ve had and happier they are to show me the ropes.
“They’ve got so much experience and are so established themselves they’re happy to help out the young lads. They’ve all taken me in and taught me a lot already.”
On Viviani in-particular, he said: “We’re completely different riders so he’s not had to sit me down and show me the ropes, but every stage, win or lose, he’s given me a pat on the back, which shows the class of the guy.
“He appreciates everything the guys do for him on the team. He loses a stage and he doesn’t start blaming anyone. The team did a good job for him on the first three stages and he’s appreciative of that. I can’t fault him.”
The future for British cycling certainly looks bright – with Knox and Chris Lawless’ (Team Sky) rise to the World Tour this year bringing the number of Brits at the top level for 2018 to 19.
They are the eighth-most represented nation in the WorldTour peloton and Knox has talked up the new generation following in the footsteps of Chris Froome, Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish.
“There’s already a lot of established GB riders,” said Knox.
“We’ve got myself, James Shaw, Scott Davies, Tao (Geoghegan Hart) all in our first few years as WorldTour riders. Maybe give us five or six years and we’ll be solid, established pros and getting up there in races.
“It’s still early days, and there are plenty of young guys coming up behind us. It’s exciting for British cycling and hopefully the future’s good.”
Knox is now a resident of Girona, having moved to Spain’s Catalonia region in 2016. And even though he states people who describe him as the next great British cycling hope are “getting carried away”, there are rumours from Spain that he recently broke a climbing record held by 2012 Tour de France winners and five-time Olympic gold medallist Wiggins.
“Maybe people are getting carried away as they’ve seen me on the TV and riding for Quick-Step but I’m not setting the world on fire,” said Knox, addressing the question of being the next British star.
“But it’s not a burden. Guys like Tao and Scott Davies, we’re all the same age. Tao’s been on the WorldTour for a year already and has achieved quite a lot more so has proven to be a level ahead.
“Me and Scott are up and coming, we came from Team Wiggins, and hopefully in a few years we’ll be following the route of the Yates brothers (Adam and Simon), Froome and (Ben) Swift, being the next generation.”
Wilco Kelderman will not be aiming to peak for another six months but admits he’s encouraged by his early season form as he captured second place at the Abu Dhabi Tour.
The Dutchman’s main goal for the 2018 season will be success at the Vuelta a Espana at the end of August. But he finished inside the top 50 on each of the five stages in the Emirates, securing second overall behind Movistar veteran Alejandro Valverde.
The Team Sunweb rider has previous Grand Tour form – including finishing fourth at the Vuelta last year, 24 seconds shy of a podium place.
He was also seventh at the Giro d’Italia in 2014, but admits competing at the Vuelta this year is his main aim.
“The Vuelta is more important for me,” said the 26-year-old. “There are opportunities for other riders for the other Grand Tours that the team has. I’m feeling good and looking forward to the Vuelta.”
Although there are six months before the Vuelta, Kelderman is pleased with his form as he heads to Tirreno–Adriatico from March 7–13 and the Volta a Catalunya from March 19–25.
“Every race is important. Not just the Vuelta,” added the 2015 Dutch time trial champion.
“Tirreno-Adriatico and Catalunya are also very important for me. They are big races coming up where I need to be good.
“I’m pleased with where I’m at, at this stage of the season. I had a really good winter and trained hard. There were no issues and for the first race it’s pretty good.”
He was close to victory on Stage 5 but admitted Spanish icon Valverde and Colombia’s Miguel Angel Lopez, who finished second, were just too good.
“I wanted to win, I tried and I was going for it, but they were just too strong,” added Kelderman, who did at least finish above Lopez in the GC, 17 seconds behind Valverde.