The Middle East races have become hot favourites for world’s best sprinters. Sprinters of the highest calibre — including Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, Elia Viviani, Dylan Groenewegen, Caleb Ewan, Giacomo Nizzolo, Alexander Kristoff, John Degenkolb and Sonny Colbrelli — have achieved important victories during the last five years of the Dubai and Abu Dhabi Tours.
Among the inaugural UAE Tour’s seven stages, where the all-rounders are favoured to win the overall General Classification category, the sprinters have to seize their opportunities in the stages that favour them, with only three days that don’t feature mountains.
The three stages are broken up through the seven-stage event: Stage 2, the “Special Olympics World Games” Abu Dhabi Stage, starting in Yas Island and finishing at the Big Flag; Stage 5, the Sharjah Stage, that runs from Flag Island to Khor Fakkan; and the final day’s Meraas Stage, when the riders will start at the Dubai Safari Park and finish in the City Walk district.
Many of the world’s leading sprint contenders will be competing in the UAE Tour’s fight of the fastest wheels. So far the list includes 2018’s most successful rider and Dubai Tour winner Viviani, double Dubai Tour champion Kittel, the Abu Dhabi Tour winner Ewan, Dubai Tour champion and winner of 30 stages at the Tour de France Cavendish, the UAE Team Emirates’ Colombian Fernando Gaviria and his teammate Kristoff, and the Giro d’Italia stage winning Irish sprinter Sam Bennett.
Here is a breakdown of the stages that are tailor-made for them:
Stage 2 – “Special Olympics World Games” Abu Dhabi Stage — Yas Island-Abu Dhabi Breakwater — 184km
Monday February 25
From Yas Island to Abu Dhabi Big Flag
Raced around the streets of the city of Abu Dhabi, Stage 2 follows one of the classic Abu Dhabi Tour stages. For three years in a row the race ended at the Big Flag. In 2016, first across the finish line was Manxman Mark Cavendish, with the Italians Elia Viviani and Andrea Guardini on the podium. In 2017, Marcel Kittel beat Caleb Ewan and Cavendish in a photo-finish after a thrilling bunch sprint. In 2018 it was an all-German podium, with Phil Bauhaus outsprinting compatriots, Kittel and Pascal Ackermann.
In 2019, for the first UAE Tour, the stage will start from Yas Mall with the first part of the route in the northeast part of the city heading towards Khalifa Port, where there is a U-turn on the pier. The riders return to the city along Channel Street and then ride through from Yas Island to Saadiyat Island, past the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Corniche until the reaching the finish line at Abu Dhabi Breakwater for what is expected to be the first sprint of the 2019 race.
Stage 5 – Sharjah Stage – Sharjah-Khor Fakkan – 181km
Thursday February 28
From Flag Island to Khor Fakkan
This stage, that connects the Arabian Gulf with the Indian Ocean (Gulf of Oman), is another opportunity for the sprinters. The start is new, with the riders moving from Flag Island and passing through the University of Sharjah towards the desert and the celebrated Fossil Rock. Then the route hits the Hajar Mountains before reaching Kalba, and the peloton will follow the coast north through Fujairah, up to the finish line in Khor Fakkan, where a bunch sprint is expected.
A similar route made for thrilling racing during the Dubai Tour years. In 2016 the sprint on the Indian Gulf, set in Fujairah, was won by Kittel; second and third were Cavendish and Giacomo Nizzolo. A year later, the Dubai Tour’s Stage 3 saw the peloton split into echelons, fighting desert crosswinds — yet the race came back together for another bunch sprint finish, won by another German, John Degenkolb. In 2018, Fujairah witnessed Cavendish’s only victory of the season, ahead of Nacer Bouhanni and Kittel.
Stage 7 – Meraas Stage — Dubai Safari Park-Citywalk — 145km
Saturday March 2
From Dubai Safari Park to City Walk
The UAE Tour’s final showdown is through the streets of Dubai, based closely on one of the most popular features of the Dubai Tour. Here Kittel and Viviani won in 2017 and 2018 respectively, before receiving the Circle of Stars on the final podium. After starting from the Dubai Safari Park the route then grafts on to the familiar course through the Dubai Design District, Mushrif Park, Al Mamzar Beach, Deira, and Rashid Port to reach Jumeirah Road and finish at City Walk. The final stage is definitely one for the fastest wheels.