Dubai: The only World Tour race in the Middle East region, the UAE Tour will be held from February 21-27 covering a total of 1,045 kms, with a significant elevation gain of around 3,500 metres, mostly concentrated into Stages 3 and 5. The route will cross five of the seven emirates with Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Umm Al Quwain, Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah all playing host to some of the top riders from across the globe.
First held in 2019 as part of the UCI World Tour, the UAE Tour evolved following a merger of the Abu Dhabi Tour and the Dubai Tour.
The official route, jerseys and sponsors for the third edition of the UAE Tour were recently announced. Organised jointly by the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, the Dubai Sports Council and RCS Sport, the UAE Tour this year’s race will feature four sprinters’ stages, two stages best suited to the peloton’s climbers and a 13km long, high-speed individual time trial.
So what exactly will be different on the 2021 UAE Tour? Starting off will be the presence of all 19 UCI World Teams along with a cast of some of the biggest names in cycling, including UAE Team Emirates’ 2020 Tour de France champion Tadej Pogacar.
Strong field on the cards
Organisers and cycling fans can look forward to watching an exceptionally strong field of riders compete this year, with a series of big names already confirmed for this week’s big race.
UAE Team Emirates’ Tour de France champion Pogacar will once again go head-to-head with defending champion and last year’s UAE Tour Red Jersey winner Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers) alongside four-time Tour de France champion Chris Froome (Israel Start-Up Nation), ITT World Champion Filippo Ganna and Mathieu van der Poel.
They will be joined by a host of experienced team leaders including multiple Grand Tour-winner Vincenzo Nibali (Trek Segafredo), Giro d’Italia and Tour de France podium-finisher Rigoberto Uran (EF Education — Nippo) and former World Champion and Vuelta a Espana-winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) along with a host of world-class sprinters including Tour de France Green Jersey winner Sam Bennett, Caleb Ewan, Pascal Ackermann and Fernando Gaviria.
There will be plenty of other riders to watch in the General Classification such as exciting young prospect Sepp Kuss as the Jumbo-Visma rider makes his first appearance at the UAE Tour alongside João Almeida (Deceuninck — Quick-Step), the fourth-place finisher at the 2020 Giro d’Italia.
Rafal Majka (UAE Team Emirates) will join them for his second UAE Tour, and will no doubt aim to improve on his fifth place overall at last year’s edition. The 2020 UAE Tour’s third-place finisher meanwhile, Alexey Lutsenko (Astana — Premier Tech) will also be in the fight for the leader’s Red Jersey as he returns for the race’s third edition.
Others in the fray will be Wout Poels (Bahrain Victorious) who will ride the UAE Tour after ending his 2020 season with a solid sixth place finish at the Vuelta a Espana. His teammate Damiano Caruso — tenth place finisher at the 2020 Tour de France — will also race.
Bora — Hansgrohe, meanwhile, will also be riding with two potential GC contenders at the race — Patrick Konrad who had an eighth place at the 2020 Giro d’Italia and Emmanuel Buchmann, who had taken a fourth place at the 2019 Tour de France alongside Deceuninck — Quick-Step’s Fausto Masnada.
The provisional entry list also includes five-time Giro d’Italia stage-winner and 2019 UAE Tour Green Jersey-winner Elia Viviani of the Cofidis team as well as Giacomo Nizzolo (Team Qhubeka Assos) — twice winner of the Giro d’Italia’s Maglia Ciclamino. Strong finisher Luka Mezgec of Team Bikeexchange and 22-time Grand Tour stage-winner Andre Greipel (Israel Start-Up Nation) will also start.
Pogacar confident UAE set for big wins
Pogacar is keen and confident of getting his season off to a winning start on his home turf later this month. The 22-year-old Slovenian, who rode in the shadows of Jumbo-Visma, made full use of the opportunities that came his way to win the Tour de France at the very last gasp and ahead of countryman Primoz Roglic, last season.
“There can be no greater joy than to be kicking-off my season at the UAE Tour,” Pogacar told Gulf News while attending the route presentation for the 2021 UAE Tour, in January. “We just had our preseason camp in the UAE and got to do some excellent training, especially on the Jebel Hafeet, which was great. I’m feeling good and motivated to race.”
The Higher Organising Committee had to cancel the last two stages of the 2020 UAE Tour after a couple of Italian staff members of one of the teams tested positive for COVID-19.
But, by then, Pogacar had done enough to stay within striking distance of overall champion Adam Yates from the Mitchelton-Scott team. Yates held the Red Jersey as the one in the lead in the General Classification by time, while UAE Team Emirates’ rider Pogacar held the White Jersey for being the Best Young Rider.
Pogacar had to throw his bike to the line to overhaul Kazakhstan national champion Alexey Lutsenko to claim the challenging Jebel Hafeet ascent. That one win has stayed on with the young Slovenian as he wants to start afresh from where he left off last season. “After the stage win last year I’m coming back hungry for more,” Pogacar said. “This is a huge event for myself and all the team and we will be here to fight for victories at our home race.”
Looking at a broader season, Pogacar cautioned that his UAE Team Emirates would be one of these contesting for top honours every time they entered a race during 2021. For one, Pogacar wants the story to be different this season starting off with his home event in the UAE Capital, from February 21.
Pogacar, who turned 22 a day after becoming the second youngest champion after Henri Cornet who won in 1904, is keen to take the fight into Roglic’s Jumbo-Visma team. Besides the overall title, Pogacar also clinched the Young Rider and Mountains classifications and become the only rider to win three classifications.
David de la Cruz crashed in the slick conditions of the opening stage, Fabio Aru abandoned in the second week, and Davide Formolo flamed out just a few days later. And even he fell short of teammates, Pogacar battled onward and stole a ride on the Jumbo-Visma train to score vital bonus seconds where it counted most, including a daring raid in the Pyrenees, and the historic Stage 20, time trial that secured him the crown as the 2020 Tour champion.
“We were already strong last year, but we had two injuries and people went home,” Pogacar said ahead of next week’s race. "So for sure this year if nothing bad happens, we have a really strong team and can take the responsibility onto our shoulders in fighting for every win,” he insisted.
Perhaps, Pogacar will not have the same sort of freedom to move this season, especially at the Tour de France, as he will be the one to be watched at all times. However, he is aware that new signings including Marc Hirschi, Rafal Majka and Matteo Trentin will be adding significant heft to the squad, while giving him a much-wanted leeway in pushing for wins.
“It was quite bad luck for our team last year, but we still proved we can be strong,” Pogacar said. “Coming into this year, without bad luck and even better preparation we can show the world that we can do a proper job at the big races, especially at the Tour de France.”
Golden moment for the UAE
Organisers are making full use of the UAE Tour to prop up the golden jubilee celebrations of the UAE. Organised jointly by the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, the Dubai Sports Council and RCS Sports and Events, the third edition of the race is the first race on the World Tour category and the only one of its kind in the Middle East.
“2021 marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Arab Emirates and the third edition of the UAE Tour. This race is not just the one and only World Tour event in the Middle East but the result of years of effort, passion and commitment from many people in our country,” Aref Al Awani, General Secretary of Abu Dhabi Sports Council, said. “As the world is watching, we are poised to deliver another world-class sporting spectacle which will contribute to the development of cycling across the Emirates while promoting our unique territory.”
Saeed Hareb, General Secretary of DSC, was proud of the diversity expounded by the UAE as a nation. “The UAE Tour is the perfect vehicle to showcase the blessed and diverse landscape of our country around the globe, as well as the vision of our leadership, which has turned the UAE into one of the world’s standout nations in a very short span of time,” he said. “Hosting the UAE Tour this year, in these challenging times, with all 19 UCI World Teams taking part, is a testimony to our success as a nation in the fight against COVID-19, and a vote of confidence in UAE’s ability to host top international sporting events in a completely safe environment. The health and safety of our guests — the riders, team and race officials, as well as fans — is our top priority, and the routes and stages for 2021 UAE Tour have been decided with those concerns in mind. At the same time, the new routes will showcase different regions of the country to the world, and I am confident the riders will enjoy every aspect of this brand new edition of UAE Tour.
Fabrizio D’Amico, RCS Sports and Events DMCC Chief Operating Officer was eagerly looking forward to the historic moment later this week. “We are delighted to kick-off together with our partners Abu Dhabi Sports Council and Dubai Sports Council the third edition of this unique wonderful race. This occurs in an extremely important historical moment as the UAE is set to celebrate its 50th year anniversary as a united country,” he said. “This year’s route will include an Individual Time Trial which will make the race more challenging and exciting. The race will cross areas of the UAE unseen before providing the unprecedented opportunity to showcase worldwide new beautiful and breathtaking landmarks.”
The official route, jerseys and sponsors for the third edition of the UAE Tour were announced in the final week of January, well before the annual race. The UAE Tour organisers — Abu Dhabi Sports Council, Dubai Sports Council and RCS Sport — confirmed that this year’s edition of the race will feature four sprinters’ stages, two stages best suited to the peloton’s climbers and a 13km-long, high-speed individual time trial to get things under way on the opening day on February 21.
The UAE Tour will cover a total of 1,045 kms, with a significant elevation gain of around 3,500m metres, mostly concentrated on Stages 3 and 5. The route will cross five of the seven emirates, with Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Umm Al Quwain, Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah all playing host to the race at some point of time.
Stage 1 (177 kms) The opening stage of the 2021 edition is scheduled to begin in the town of Al Ruwais, then make its way through the Abu Dhabi region before reaching the coastal city of Al Mirfa where an exciting bunch sprint finish is expected.
Stage 2 (13 kms) The following day, the riders will compete over a short and fast-paced individual time trial on the second stage that will start and finish on the beautiful Al Hudayriat Island. Though brief, the time trial will no doubt provide an opportunity for early time gains for the closely fought General Classification.
Stage 3 (162 kms) The third stage will remain in Abu Dhabi and begin from the headquarters of Strata Manufacturing, located in Al Ain international airport, before tackling Jebel Hafeet to finish — a 10km long ascent that peaks over 1,000m above sea level. Cycling fans can expect to witness a battle for the Red Jersey on the mountain pass as the race’s strongest climbers will look to press home their advantage.
Stage 4 (204 kms) The fourth stage will start and finish on Al Marjan Island within the beautiful emirate of Ras Al Khaimah. The stage will visit its neighbouring emirate of Umm Al Quwain along the way. The longest day in the saddle by quite some margin, the race’s fourth stage will be best suited to the fast wheels of the peloton, thanks to its flat finish.
Stage 5 (170 kms) The next day will be the tour’s most challenging beginning in Fujairah and making its way north before finishing with the punishing Jebel Jais climb that tops out at 1,491m above sea level. The time won and lost on the long and relentless 20km-plus ascent will most likely prove to be decisive in the General Classification.
Stage 6 (168 kms) The penultimate will see the riders race on a mostly flat route from the Deira Islands, Dubai, and finish at the iconic Palm Jumeirah. Around 60 kms into the route, the peloton will join the Al Qudra Cycle Track — an 86km long pristine tarmac path that traverses the Dubai desert — before heading back to the city.
Stage 7 (147 kms) The final stage will start at Yas Mall and will follow a flat route that will take in the sights of the UAE’s capital, Abu Dhabi, before a final sprint along the city’s breakwater — where the winner of the third edition of the UAE Tour will be crowned.
Official Leader Jerseys
The official race jerseys will be provided by Italian brand, Ale. The high-tech sportswear line looks convincing with its high functionality and ergonomic fit while providing perfect aerodynamics to the riders.
Red Jersey General Classification: Sponsored by ADNOC, this jersey is to be worn daily, starting from Stage 2, by the leader of the General Classification by time.
Green Jersey Points Classification: Sponsored by Etisalat, this jersey is to be worn daily, starting from Stage 2, by the fastest sprinter, who has obtained the best positions in each stage and intermediate sprints.
White Jersey Young Rider Classification: Sponsored by Nakheel, this jersey is to be worn daily, starting from Stage 2, by the best young rider born after January 1, 1995 in the overall classification by time (U25). Here starts the making of the future stars.
Black Jersey Intermediate Sprint Classification: Sponsored by Abu Dhabi Aviation, this jersey is to be worn daily, starting from Stage 2, by the rider who has gained more Intermediate Sprint Points than any other participant.
Alongside the ‘Top Sponsors’ of the four jerseys (ADNOC, Etisalat, Nakheel, Abu Dhabi Aviation) there are others involved in the support of the race, including official car sponsor Audi Al Nabooda, official jersey partner Ale, official timekeeper Breitling.
Additionally, Abu Dhabi Sports Channel and Dubai Sports will be the host broadcasters, along with Tadweer and suppliers, Anghami, Shimano, Bianchi, Hansgroe, Al Ain Water and Hertz.
The Red, Green, White and Black jerseys are sponsored by ADNOC, Etisalat, Nakheel and Abu Dhabi Aviation. The official race jerseys and official car will be provided by Ale and Audi Al Nabooda, respectively while luxury Swiss watchmaker Breitling will be the Official Timekeeper — who will be awarding the winners of each stage and the overall winner with the new Breitling Endurance Pro.