The 28-year-old Quick-Step Floors rider won three of four stages in Dubai earlier this month – the fourth stage of five from Hatta to Hatta Dam was cancelled due to strong winds.
It followed his 2016 triumph and the man who has 14 individual Grand Tour stage wins (nine Tour de France, four Giro d’Italia, one Vuelta a Espana) will be among the favourites for stage, perhaps even overall victory, in the capital this weekend.
Although he is targeting success come Sunday night under the lights of Yas Marina Circuit, Kittel knows he has his work cut out – with Mark Cavendish, Elia Viviani, Andre Greipel, Fernando Gaviria, Alexander Kristoff and Caleb Ewan all in contention in a packed field.
“It was a great start to the season in Dubai and I would like it to continue, but it’s also different circumstances here,” said the Arnstadt native.
“There are more threats here than in Dubai and that’s a challenge. And we will see how I rise to that challenge in the next few days.
“You saw the podium at the press conference. Everyone that was sitting there is a potential winner. That is something I have to take into account. It will be close. Sometimes it comes down to how well you work together with your team. It’s hard to predict.”
“I think my form is good. I’m happy with the conditions. I saw after Dubai that my form was alright and I kept working on it afterwards so I can be satisfied.
“The important thing now is to really focus, not to say ‘OK, I’ve got some wins so it’s not important here’. Abu Dhabi is a goal to the rest of the season and I will give it my best.”
Many of his opponents are also in good form. Orica-Scott rider Ewan won the sprints title at the Tour Down Under in his native Australia, Katusha-Alpecin’s Alexander Kristoff claimed the points classification at the Tour of Oman crown on Sunday while Quick-Step colleague Gaviria won two stages at the Vuelta a San Juan in Argentina.
Manx Missile Cavendish, meanwhile, has form here, having won two of the four stages in Abu Dhabi four months ago.
Orica–GreenEDGE’s Ewan is one of the youngest among the leading sprinters and was sprint king Down Under last month, but has played down his chances of success this weekend and instead picked Kittel as the man to watch.
The 22-year-old said: “To be honest I don’t think my form is as good as it was at Down Under. After that I had a week off and I’ve come straight here from an altitude training camp so I’m not sure if my form will be great or not.
“If I had to pick someone, I think Kittel is going the best. After watching him in Dubai, he was sprinting super quick but it’s hard to tell when all these guys come together. If the smallest thing goes wrong it could cost you because these guys are at such a high level. I guess it depends who’s really up for it on the day.”
Lotto-Soudal’s Greipel, meanwhile, says he and his team will be going all out for victory, despite the fact his leadout options have altered in the off-season with the loss of the reliable Greg Henderson who joined UnitedHealthcare.
“Our team has a bit of a lack of leadout guys but that doesn’t mean that we won’t work together for the sprints,” said the 34-year-old.
“It’s not the usual guys but we have a big chance to win at least one stage. I appreciated a lot what Henderson did for us but we have a lot of solutions.”