The Emirates is gearing up for the inaugural UAE Tour – the only Middle East event on the UCI’s WorldTour calendar – which will welcome some of the sport’s top cyclists when it gets under way in Abu Dhabi on February 24.
The Tour – which sees the Abu Dhabi Tour and Dubai Tour combine into one week-long event – will boast an enviable line-up of cycling’s top superstars as all 18 UCI WorldTour teams have committed their best riders to the race, which will visit all seven emirates.
Here, we look at the key talking points.
FROOME IN THE UAE
By nearly every available metric, Chris Froome’s status as one of the greatest racers of all time is firmly assured.
The 33-year-old clinched his fourth Grand Tour title at the Giro d’Italia in May and followed it up with second place at the Tour de France two months later, finishing behind teammate Geraint Thomas.
But with the Welshman also proving he is capable of winning Grand Tours, Team Sky face a dilemma in who fills the lead rider position for 2019.
And with less than five months until cycling’s showpiece event rolls into Brussels for the opening stage, Froome has plenty of time to show his mettle as he eyes a record-equalling fifth title.
The various high-cadence climbs on offer around the Emirates next week will suit his attributes, and coupled with the soaring climbs at Jebel Hafeet and the Hajar Mountains, should steer him in the right direction ahead of the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya next month.
Riders like Alejandro Valverde and Tim Dumoulin may be ahead of the Briton in their respective training programmes for the year, but there is every reason to put Froome as a No1 favourite for the red jersey.
VIVIANI CAN BE EVEN BETTER IN 2019
The Italian looked a class apart last season with 18 stage wins, and based on his form in Australia last month, appears to have started the new year where he left off.
What made his early season form all the more impressive was the fact he crashed out in the Tour Down Under Classic in Adelaide and was able to respond two days later with a glorious style of sprinting to zip past Max Walscheid on the finish line for a maiden stage victory of the year on stage one of Tour Down Under.
At the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road race three weeks ago, Viviani recorded another win, holding off rival Caleb Ewan for an outstanding win.
Last year’s most successful rider may have turned 30 this month, but with Fernando Gaviria now at UAE Team Emirates, it’s going to be fascinating to watch the Verona man battle against the world’s best as the season progresses.
The Deceuninck-Quick Step team lead out train is one of the strongest in the business, and with more time together, Viviani is sure to be a force.
FIRST CHANCE FOR UAE FANS TO SEE GAVIRIA
Gaviria has been touted as a future classics star, even though he has yet to make a significant impact in the popular Belgian one-day races.
The 24-year-old, who switched from Team-Quick Step in October, enjoyed two stage wins at the Tour de France in July and possesses the power, pace, timing and intelligence to be a key name in the sport for years to come.
With two stage wins already to his name this season in Argentina, Gaviria was then forced to withdraw from his home Tour of Colombia last week due to a respiratory infection.
If he can return to full fitness for Sunday’s opening stage in Abu Dhabi, it will be the perfect chance for UAE fans to see their new signing race alongside another fan favourite Alexander Kristoff.
The Norwegian is one of the high-pedigree classics riders and will forge a iron-like partnership with Gaviria for the Emirati formation this season.
An exciting campaign awaits with UAE possessing two of the most gifted sprinters in the peloton.
NEW EXCITING ROUTE
The UAE Tour’s seven stages will embrace all seven Emirates and is sure to capture the imagination of cycling fans around the country next week.
The first three stages will be hosted by Abu Dhabi, the fourth by Dubai, Sharjah and Ras al Khaimah, the fifth stage crosses Sharjah, Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah.
The sixth is in Ajman, Umm al Quwain and Ras al Khaimah, while the final stage sees a return to the streets of Dubai, finishing up at City Walk.
Although marquee cycling races have taken place in the Emirates in the past, it is hoped that the UAE Tour will continue to represent a new chapter for cycling in the region and add to the growing list of sporting events currently taking place throughout the year.
Furthermore, it’s a major boost for cycling in the Gulf to host a World Tour event of it’s calibre and adds to the exciting races that already take place in Oman.
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