ABU DHABI // Mark Cavendish has said to expect “the best group of sprinters you will see all year” at the 2017 Abu Dhabi Tour as the race gets set to make its World Tour debut.
After just two editions, the Abu Dhabi Tour was granted World Tour status by Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) for the next three years, resulting in an extension of the course from 555 kilometres to 672km and a change in its scheduling from October to February. Its inclusion on the UCI calendar also means for the first time World Tour points will be up for grabs.
“To think the Abu Dhabi Tour is only in its third year and it’s already in the top tier of cycling shows just what a great job Abu Dhabi Sports Council and [race organisers] RCS Sport have done,” Cavendish said at the unveiling of the 2017 Abu Dhabi Tour route and jerseys at the Cipriani Yas Island on Tuesday.
“It was a great move to move the race to February. We’re going to get the best riders in their best condition all preparing for the European Classic season.”
While the Abu Dhabi Tour had previously attracted a host of star riders for the first two editions, its status as a UCI event has ensured an even greater assembly of the world’s top cyclists in the capital.
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Given that three of the four stages lend themselves to sprint finishes, it is no surprise some of cycling’s quickest will be in Abu Dhabi. Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors), Elia Viviani (Team Sky), Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott), and Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) will be among the fast men vying with Cavendish for the right to be called Abu Dhabi Tour’s best sprinter.
“We really have the best sprinters in the world here, the best group of sprinters you will see all year outside the Tour de France,” said Team Dimension Data rider Cavendish, who won two stages in 2016 having missed the inaugural race due to a shoulder injury.
“We are bringing a strong team here. It’s a World Tour race, it’s an important race for me personally and we want to come here and be successful.”
While the route is 117km longer, the four stages follow the same course, starting with the 188km Madinat Zayed Stage. Stage 2, the 155km Nations Tower Stage, runs mostly through the city before the riders venture into the mountains for the 186km Al Ain Stage, which culminates in an uphill finish at an altitude of 1,025 metres up Jebel Hafeet. The race concludes with the 143km Yas Island Stage, 26 laps around the Yas Marina Circuit.
There is also continuity in the jerseys. The Red Jersey will go to the General Classification winner, the Green Jersey to the General Points winner, the White Jersey to the best young rider, and the Black Jersey to the Intermediate Sprint winner.
One notable addition to the 2017 race is the UAE Abu Dhabi Team, which was formed this month, and will compete on the UCI World Tour. Among the international riders assembled for the team is the No 1 Emirati and Olympian Yousif Mirza.
“We are really happy that UAE Abu Dhabi have accepted our invitation to participate here,” Aref said Al Awani, general secretary of the Abu Dhabi Sport Council. “I think this kind of participation and this investment in the team is very helpful for the sport.
“We are not only organising this event, but also promoting the sport and the lifestyle.
“We were very happy to hear that Yousif Mirza is part of the UAE Abu Dhabi team, so we will have two teams to cheer this year; Mark as our ambassador and Yousif as well.”
■ What: 2017 Abu Dhabi Tour
■ When: February 23-26, 2017
■ Distance: 672km
■ Stage 1 – Madinat Zayed Stage (188km)
The first stage runs entirely in the desert, with the first and last parts of around 45km in straight roads. Once in Liwa, the riders face the first Intermediate Sprint. After Liwa comes the second Intermediate Sprint. The course then takes the riders to Madinat Zayed by reversing the route of the outward journey.
■ Stage 2 – Nation Towers Stage (188km)
This stage runs mostly through the city. Starting at Al Maryah Island, the route goes through Reem Island, runs along the Abu Dhabi Corniche before turning south. The riders then pass close to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and reach Shakhbout City before riding through Al Shamaha and Al Bahya. After returning towards Yas Island, the stage stretches down Sheikh bin Zayed Highway towards the finish line on the Corniche.
■ Stage 3 – Al Ain Stage (186km)
The climbing stage. Starting in Al Ain city, the route goes through the desert before making its final ascent, culminating in an uphill finish at an altitude of 1025 metres, following an 11km climb with slopes with an 11 per cent gradient. There are short descents in the final kilometres before the final ramp with a straight finish.
■ Stage 4 – Yas Island Stage (143km)
The final stage is entirely on Yas Island. Here the riders partake in 26 laps of the Yas Marina Circuit, each of 5.5km with three Intermediate Sprints.
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