UAE Team Emirates announced a super-seven line up for Saturday’s Milan-San Remo race, with Abu Dhabi Tour stage winner and reigning European Champion, Alexander Kristoff leading the team as they look to secure their first race win of the 2018 UCI World Tour season.
Kristoff, who is aiming to add to his 2014 Milan-San Remo victory, will be supported by an experienced team including; Diego Ulissi, Marco Marcato and Ben Swift, the latter of whom has finished on the podium twice in this race – third in 2014 and 2nd in 2016.
Joining them will be the promising young trio of Oliviero Troia, Simone Consonni and Sven Erik Bystrøm. The riders will be guided along the 300km route by Sports Director Mario Scirea and his colleague Marco Marzano.
Kristoff is targeting the Spring Classic as one of his main goals for 2018. “I’ve always really liked Milan-San Remo and its appeal increased when I won in 2014. I already have a number of races under my belt already this season and have set up so that I can be in top form for the Spring Classics. I’ve been held back by a few health issues and at the beginning of Paris-Nice I had some days where I didn’t feel very well, but I think I’m better now and I’ve been working hard to get back to full fitness. I am 100 per cent focused on this race. The objective is to figure as a major player and I’m confident I have the right team to support me and put me in a strong position.”
With a distance of 300km to tackle, Milan-Sanremo is the longest one-day race of the year and a huge test for riders so early in the season. The course, the first of the five cycling monuments, remains unchanged from last year, with riders departing from Milan and heading south-west to the Mediterranean coast.
The opening 150km of the race could be an opportunity for the breakaway to build up a considerable lead on the peloton, before the race opens up as riders reach the coast. Five short climbs in the final 55km could have a big influence on the race outcome, but the world-class sprinters of this year’s tour should be able to attack them and provide fans with a thrilling sprint finish on the flat 2km run-in to San Remo.
A top official says they have ambitious plans of making the UAE Tour ‘one of the very best races’ on the UCI calendar following the merger of the Abu Dhabi Tour and Dubai Tour.
The UAE Tour was announced on Wednesday in Abu Dhabi after a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between Abu Dhabi Sports Council and Dubai Sports Council.
Ever since the Dubai Tour and Abu Dhabi Tour were launched in 2014 and 2015 respectively, the races have gone from strength to strength and become pinnacle events on the UAE sporting calendar.
Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel are among the high-profile names to have travelled to the Emirate in recent years. And Aref Al Awani, general secretary of Abu Dhabi Sports Council, is convinced they are ready for the challenge of making the UAE Tour as one of the elite races on the UCI World Tour schedule.
“Yes, that is what we want to do,” he told Sport360. “We know the UCI calendar is very strong and it has the three Grand Tour races – Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana. They are all very big races on the calendar that attracts the best riders.
“Our aim is to make the UAE Tour one of the best races after those Tour races on the World Tour calendar. We want this race to be very attractive for all the riders and make it the most important race on the calendar so that all the big names will continue coming to the country.”
The inaugural race is set to be held in February 2019 over seven days with the initial route consisting of seven stages. Al Awani is hopeful that each of the UAE’s seven emirates will host a stage or be a passing point.
“We are hoping that all the seven Emirates will have a stage whether that is hosting a stage or seeing the riders go past,” said Al Awani, who said they will submit the plans including the name change to the UCI. “We want the the riders to pass most of the towns. For instance, the last time we hosted the Abu Dhabi Tour, we passed eight towns in the capital, so this is the same aim for the UAE Tour.
“We want to elevate the race by becoming a seven stage race, representing the seven emirates in the country. The number 7 is very special for us and it will be a race for everybody.”
The UAE are no strangers to hosting elite competitions with the Formula One, Dubai World Cup and Rugby Sevens among the most high-profile events.
And Al Awani says the UAE Tour will put the country on the sporting map and enhance their image of being a major sporting hub.
“Sport has been one of the strongest tourism tools for the UAE and sport is escalating every year,” he added. “It’s very attractive and lucrative for us. Developing this race and making sure it’s held across the country is very important to us as it widens the scope.
“For sure, it will help the UAE overall and most importantly will benefit the community in spreading the awareness of cycling and raising the profile of the sport.”
Professional cycling in the Emirates is set for a major shake-up after it was announced that the Abu Dhabi Tour and Dubai Tour have been merged and will run as the UAE Tour from 2019.
A Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the two governing bodies on Wednesday. The amalgamated event is set to retain its elite UCI World Tour status and consist of seven stages across the country, with next February planned as the running date.
“It is time to elevate the success we have had from both the Abu Dhabi and Dubai Tours to another level,” Abu Dhabi Sports Council general secretary Aref Al Awani was quoted as saying in The National.
“The nature of the UAE has always been to have a united passion. The instructions have come from our leadership that we should utilise the success that we have got as one nation.”
The Dubai Tour was founded in 2014, with the Abu Dhabi event following a year later. The race in the capital was added to the premier UCI World Tour in 2017.
Several of the sport’s biggest stars have competed in them, such as Mark Cavendish, Elia Viviani and Vincenzo Nibali.
Dubai Sports Council general secretary Saeed Hareb declared the amalgamated event will be more financially viable.
He said: “It’s not less or more on the financial resources for us but more impact in terms on the value of the event in terms of the media coverage.”