Alejandro Valverde
Alejandro Valverde, Movistar Team rider who finished runner-up in the inaugural edition of UAE Tour, has confirmed for this year's race. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Sharjah: Alejandro Valverde, last year’s UAE Tour runner-up, headlines the field for the second edition of the premier cycling event, scheduled to be held from February 23-29. A number of top names in the sport like Valverde, a 2009 Vuelta a Espana winner, 2015 Dubai Tour winner Mark Cavendish, Caleb Ewan, winner of Stage 4 during last year’s UAE Tour, Fernando Gaviria of UAE Team Emirates and 2019 Giro d’Italia Maglia Azzurra (King of the Mountain) Giulio Ciccone have signalled their intent to participate.

Defending champion and ace Slovenian cyclist Primoz Roglic does not feature among the list of riders — meaning a new man being crowned king at the end of the gruelling seven stage affair.

Some of the riders offered spiel online on Monday during a press conference, organised to reveal the stages that will form part of this year’s Tour. “I will be competing once again this year. I really enjoyed my time in the UAE last year. It was a well-organised race and I hope to enjoy it as much this year as well and, hopefully, put on a better performance,” Valverde, the Team Movistar rider, said.

Caleb Ewan of Team Lotto Soudal, who won last year’s 197km hilly stage, which started at Palm Jumeirah and ended at Hatta Dam, is looking to at least replicate the feat. “I‘m really happy to see that we’ve got a finish again at Hatta Dam. Hopefully, I can win there again and it’s a finish that I really love and hope I can repeat from last year,” Ewan said.

UAE Team Emirates rider Fernando Gaviria is hoping to give residents something to smile about. Gaviria won a Stage 2 over 184km last year, a phase classified as flat from Yas Island to Abu Dhabi. “I won a stage last year and I hope to make the team and sponsors proud again this year. I know this year there are a lot of opportunities for sprints and I will try to do my best,” he said.

The UAE Tour will crown the most complete rider who proves to be the strongest in the seven stages raced across all seven Emirates

- Saeed Hareb

If Roglic is eventually absent from the final list of starters, Slovenian fans will look to up and coming youngster, Tadej Pogacar, winner of the Young Rider Classification at the 2019 Vuelta a Espana, to deliver the goods. If he can do, it will be a massive thumbs up for the UAE as he is part of UAE Team Emirates. “I am preparing myself in Sierra Nevada (in the United States) for the upcoming season and my first goal is the UAE Tour and I am really excited to start my first event there. I think the UAE team will be really good there,” Pogacar said.

The 2020 UAE Tour runs through all seven Emirates and covers a total distance of 1,177km with a significant elevation gain of approximately 3,500 metres, mostly concentrated into stages two, three and five. It runs on successive days starting February 23 with the 158km Marjan Island Stage, which will be flagged off at Zabeel Park and end at Marjan Island in Ras Al Khaimah.

The second stage, the Dubai Municipality Stage is the longest and covers 203km, starting at The Pointe in Palm Jumeirah and finishing off at Hatta Dam. Next the riders contest the Sharjah Stage over 198km, which starts in Sharjah and ends at Rafisah Dam in Khor Fakkan.

After the 171km Dubai Stage, the fourth stage starting at Dubai Design District and ending at City Walk, the riders head to the oasis city for the 162km Al Ain Stage, which ends with the 10.8km climb up Jebel Hafeet, which has a maximum gradient of 10 per cent and an average slope of 5.4 per cent. The penultimate stage is the 158km ADNOC Stage, which starts in Al Ruwais and ends in Al Mirfa, while the Tour drawing to a close with the 127km Abu Dhabi Stage from Al Maryah Island to Abu Dhabi Breakwater.

Saeed Hareb, Dubai Sports Council Secretary General, said this year’s route has been designed to challenge all of the riders irrespective of their strengths. “The UAE Tour will crown the most complete rider who proves to be the strongest in the seven stages raced across all seven Emirates,” Hareb said.

— The writer is a sports journalist based in the UAE