Britain's Chris Froome (R) and Geraint Thomas (L) of Team Sky prior to the start of the first stage of the Tour of Britain cycle race in Pembrey Country Park, south Wales on September 2, 2018. Image Credit: AFP

Abu Dhabi: Four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome will be the star attraction for the inaugural UAE Tour comprising of seven stages that will embrace all seven emirates.

The announcement rules out speculation that Froome’s Team Sky will not be available following the announcement last week that media company Sky will axe its £30 million-a-year sponsorship of the road-racing powerhouse after next season, ending a decade-plus partnership that has won the Tour de France six times with three different riders.

“The UAE Tour would be fantastic World event with team time trial and two uphill finishes as well and it will be a nice way to start the season. Very much looking forward to that race,” said Froome in a video clip.

After five successful years as the Dubai Tour and the Abu Dhabi Tour, the brand new, combined UAE Tour was officially unveiled on Thursday at the Yas Marina Circuit.

The only World Tour race in the Middle East, organised by Dubai Sports Council, Abu Dhabi Sports Council, Sharjah Sports Council, in partnership with RCS Sport, is scheduled from February 24 to March 2 and a 24-carat gold-plated trophy is up for grabs.

All 18 World Teams start, with many of the best riders on the planet including Grand Tour winners Tom Dumoulin and Vincenzo Nibali reigning Road and Time Trial World Champions Alejandro Valverde and Rohan Dennis, and world-class sprinters Elia Viviani and Marcel Kittel.

“It is a very nice race specially at the beginning of the year and it is good to relax and go through a competitive race,” said Dumoulin of Team Sunweb. “I liked the Abu Dhabi Tour and I think it will be exactly how the UAE Tour will be I guess. I’m really looking forward to it.”

The inaugural UAE Tour’s seven stages will embrace all seven emirates. The first three stages will be hosted by Abu Dhabi, the fourth by Dubai, Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah, the fifth stage crosses Sharjah, RAK and Fujairah, the sixth is in Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and RAK, while the final stage sees a return to Dubai. The 2019 UAE Tour has a total distance of 1,090km with a significant elevation gain of around 4,500 metres, mostly concentrated into stages three, four and six.

With each team comprising seven riders, a total of 140 athletes will line up at Al Hudayriat Island for the opening stage Team Time Trial.

Aref Al Awani, Abu Dhabi Sports Council General Secretary, said: “I’m very glad to unveil such a wonderful race today. It’s the result of years of effort, passion and commitment, and this is definitely what we’ve been striving for. The world’s eyes are on us and we are ready to deliver a world-class sporting spectacle and an unforgettable event. Thanks to the Dubai Sports Council, Abu Dhabi Sports Council, Sharjah Sports Council, and to our sponsors and partners, we’ll meet this challenge in style.”

Saeed Hareb, Dubai Sports Council Secretary General, added: “We now have a Tour that should challenge every kind of rider, and it involves all seven Emirates! This was always our dream. I am confident we can become an important appointment in the world cycling calendar and keep growing as a sporting event as well as developing the fan base.”

Eisa Hilal Al Hezami, Sharjah Sports Council General Secretary, said: “Being part of this world-class project is a milestone for the Sharjah cycling movement. The two stages Sharjah is involved in are really interesting: stage four ends in Hatta and the course is a well-established Middle East cycling icon. And I’m sure that the following day’s Sharjah Stage will match up to this very high standard.”

The Route

1. Abu Dhabi’s Al Hudayriat Island with the ADNOC Stage (16km): Team Time Trial opening for the Middle East World Tour race on February 25.

2. The Abu Dhabi Stage (184km): Tour of the capital, starting in Yas Island and passing through Khalifa Port, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Corniche before finishing at the Big Flag.

3. The Al Ain Stage (177km): From the Al Ain UAE University to the first UAE Tour peak — the 1,025m Jebel Hafeet, which features a maximum gradient of 11 per cent.

4. The Dubai Municipality Stage (205km): A tribute to the classic Dubai Tour “Queen stage”, starting from The Pointe at Palm Jumeirah and finishing with the short, sharp rise of Hatta Dam, climbing 200m on gradients ranging from 12-17 per cent.

5. The Sharjah stage (181km): From Flag Island to Khor Fakkan, and is likely to culminate in a bunch finish.

6. The RAK Properties Stages (180km) For the first time, the peloton will ride among the Jais Mountains with a 20km-long uphill finish on Jebel Jais, with its 5 per cent average gradients.

7. The Dubai Stage (145km) starts at Dubai Safari Park and finishes at the City Walk district with what is expected to be a bunch sprint.

The Jerseys

Red Jersey: General Classification: worn daily, starting from stage 2, by the leader of the General Classification by time. Sponsor: Emirates

Green Jersey: Points Classification: worn daily, starting from stage 2, by the fastest sprinter, who has obtained the best positions in each stage and intermediate sprints. Sponsor: ADNOC

White Jersey: Young Rider Classification: worn daily, starting from stage 2, by the best young rider born after January 1 1994 in the overall classification (U25), the name to watch out for in the future. Sponsor: Nakheel

Black Jersey: Intermediate Sprint Classification: worn daily, starting from stage 2, by the rider who gained more Intermediate Sprint Points than any other rider. Sponsor: Abu Dhabi Aviation