In a press conference room at Yas Marina Circuit 10 A-list cyclists were sat on a podium addressing a room crammed with media from across the globe.
World champion Peter Sagan, Vuelta a Espana holder Fabio Aru, 2014 Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali, and UCI WorldTour No 1 Alejandro Valverde sat side by side forming a quartet that would probably make a far better Fantastic Four than the ones who starred in the latest edition of the movie franchise.
To say that the inaugural Abu Dhabi Tour features a marquee lineup would be an understatement. Just a year following the introduction of the first Dubai Tour, the UAE has added another four-stage race to its ever-growing sporting calendar.
Italian company RSC Sport – who organise the Giro d’Italia – joined forces with Abu Dhabi Sports Council to bring to life the 2.1 category race and it wouldn’t be surprising if the Abu Dhabi Tour soon follows in its Dubai counterpart’s footsteps and gets upgraded to 2.HC.
Starting from the majestic Qasr Al Sarab in the Liwa desert on Thursday and finishing under the floodlights of Yas Marina Circuit on Sunday night, the Tour is the latest effort from authorities to boost cycling in the UAE and utilise sport in marketing the Emirates worldwide.
With the entirety of the four stages broadcast live – a privilege not afforded by many races – all the main Abu Dhabi landmarks will be on full display for the globe to see.
“If this race goes as I can see it, I think it will be a precedent for future races in the whole of world cycling,” said sprint superstar Mark Cavendish, the official ambassador of the Tour. “I want to say thank you for bringing out cycling to the UAE. There are a lot of people riding bikes here, it’s growing.”
The event closes out the cycling season and comes on the tails of the Vuelta a Espana, the World Championships and Il Lombardia.
— Mark Cavendish (@MarkCavendish) October 6, 2015
The riders are understandably exhausted and are eager to go on vacation yet most of them have made the trip to the UAE capital to take part in the first edition of the race.
A three-year deal with Velon – a joint business venture of 11 UCI WorldTour cycling teams – to support the Abu Dhabi Tour and the newly-created UCI Cycling Gala awards ceremony, that will take place on Yas Island following the conclusion of the final stage, ensured that many of the top riders are participating – most of which will be receiving awards on Sunday night.
The Abu Dhabi Tour trophy, which they are calling ‘Silent Speed’, is designed by Ferrari, which is bizarrely fitting considering the race will finish at a Formula One circuit.
Sagan will be donning his world champion’s rainbow kit for the first time and the Slovakian admits his triumph in Richmond last month is a dream come true.
“I am very proud of this rainbow jersey, and of having won this special race. No one can imagine what it is like for a rider to win the World Championships when it has been your dream all your life. It is unlike any other victory in my career,” said the Tinkoff-Saxo rider.
— Tinkoff Saxo (@tinkoff_saxo) October 7, 2015
Valverde, who will receive his WorldTour No 1 trophy at the awards night on Sunday, was asked why he opted to compete in Abu Dhabi instead of going to the Tour of China II.
“I’m here not because Beijing is bad or anything. It’s a very good race. But here in Abu Dhabi the weather is nice, okay now it’s very hot, but the whole world likes to focus on this region. It’s a competition but we’re treating it like a mini-vacation as well,” the Spaniard said.
“I’m really happy to win the WorldTour for a second straight year, and a fourth time overall. I’m super happy to win it again and to be here in Abu Dhabi for this new race and for the UCI Awards Gala.”
Stages one, three and four of the Abu Dhabi Tour are flat and will most likely finish with a bunch sprint while the third stage up to Jebel Hafeet in Al Ain ends with a steep 11km climb with an average gradient of 7.5 per cent and reaching 12 per cent in certain areas.
The UAE Cycling Federation are fielding their second string riders in the absence of top guys Yousif Mirza and Ahmed Al Mansoori who are in China looking to rack up some Asia Tour ranking points.
The Abu Dhabi race will give the younger Emirati riders a chance to mix it up with big guns and see what the professional tour is all about. Let’s hope they survive the climb on Saturday
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