UAE Team Emirates leader and defending Abu Dhabi Tour champion Rui Costa has said the team will tailor their tactics to support sprinter Alexander Kristoff in the first three stages of the race that begins today.
Kristoff enters the Abu Dhabi Tour three days after winning the final stage of the Tour of Oman. The European champion made his debut for UAE Team Emirates two weeks ago at the Dubai Tour where he claimed a ninth-place finish in the sprinter-friendly race.
“He’s our man for the first three days of the Abu Dhabi Tour that’s likely to finish in bunch sprints,” Costa said of his Norwegian teammate at the pre-race conference at the Yas Events Centre at Yas Marina Circuit on Tuesday.
“The first three stages of the Abu Dhabi Tour suit him best and we’ll all support him for a good finish on the first three days.”
Costa’s return to action was delayed because of illness and the Portuguese, who finished 10th in the Tour of Oman general classification standings, revealed he still wasn’t at 100 per cent fitness.
“I missed a few days of training in January and still recovering,” he said. “I was satisfied with the work in Oman and hopefully be better for this race.”
Consequently, Costa was non-committal on his chances of retaining his Abu Dhabi Tour title, insisting the competitiveness of the event means a host of riders are likely to be in contention.
“It’s very hard to say who will win this year with so many of the world’s best riders in the race,” he said. “The first day as always is important because of the jersey classifications. Of course we’ll take one day at a time but our goal for sure is to win the home race in front of our sponsors and fans.”
The Abu Dhabi Tour, which is part of the UCI World Tour, has drawn 17 of the 18 World Tour teams and their lead riders, including former grand tour champion Fabio Aru, who will be making his UAE Team Emirates debut in the capital.
“I’m delighted to start the season with my new team here,” the Italian said. “It’s my third time racing the Abu Dhabi Tour. The time trial makes it a slightly different race this time. It will put more riders into the mix for the overall victory.”
Other general classification contenders include Team Sunweb’s Tom Dumoulin, Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana), Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin), Rohan Dennis (BMC), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), and Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors).
However, the spotlight falls on the sprinters for the first three stages. Team Dimension Data rider Mark Cavendish, Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors), Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin), Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal), Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott), and Dan McLay (EF Education First-Drapac) are among those looking to rival Kristoff.
The opening Al Fahim Stage starts at Madinat Zayed and finishes at the Adnoc School, covering a distance of 189 kilometres.