The Castle of Al Thafra is the decor for the World Tour season this Sunday. After the cancellation of the Tour Down Under and other races on Australian soil, the UAE Tour (2.WT, 21-27/02) received the honor to open the World Tour this year. The only race of this level in the Middle East takes place from February 21st to 27th. The seven stages cross deserts and cities of the seven Emirates on rolling roads. The wind often plays a role in the Middle East, but probably the two mountain top finishes and time trial will be the decisive factors for the overall classification of the seven day event.
The tour starts with a flat sprint stage, followed by a 15 kilometer time trial in the Al Hudyriat bike park. The third stage ends with the Jebel Hafeet climb (10,6km at 6,9%) and the fifth stage leads towards the top of the Jebel Jais (21,5km at 5,4%) in the north of the country. The penultimate stage visits the famous artificial archipelago Palm Jumeirah in Dubai, before one day later the successor of Adam Yates will be known in capital Abu Dhabi. Last season, the Briton was declared the overall winner after only five stages, because the final two days were suspended because of the emergence of the Covid pandemic. The races finish around 16h30, but a time difference of 3 hours between Abu Dhabi and the Central European Time has to be taken into account.
On his 29th birthday, Louis Meintjes will make his debut in the colors of Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux. Next to the South-African, also climbers Jan Hirt and Simone Petilli will start their season in the Middle East. In contrary, Rein Taaramäe has already a proper race rhythm after the GP La Marseillaise and the Etoile de Bessèges. Italian sprinter Riccardo Minali, Dutchman Wesley Kreder and Belgian rider Kévin Van Melsen will also pin numbers for the first time this year, aiming for good results in the flat stages. The duo Valerio Piva and Aike Visbeek will make their debut as sports directors for Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux in the United Arabic Emirates.
Valerio Piva (Sports Director):
« We have a strong and motivated line up for this first World Tour race of the season. Riccardo Minali is in a good shape and will receive the support of Wesley Kreder and Kévin Van Melsen during the flat stages. With Jan Hirt, Louis Meintjes, Simone Petilli and Rein Taaramäe we've got the necessary assets for the two mountain top finishes. After the first three days, including the time trial and the Jebel Hafeet climb, we'll have an idea about the general classification. Based on this, we'll decide who will be our protected rider in case of crosswinds at the end of the week. »
« Many top riders will be at the start in the Middle East, but just like for our riders, it will be a first test for everyone. So it's difficult to set precise goals. With his time trial capabilities, I hope Rein Taaramäe will be able to surprise me in the overall classification. With the GP La Marseillaise and the Etoile de Bessèges, which also contained a time trial, behind his back, the Estonian rider is already one step ahead of the others. Everyone is looking forward to start racing, so it promises to be a nice battle! »
Kévin Van Melsen
Stage 1 (21/02): Al Thafra Castle – Al Mirfa (157,6 km)
Stage 2 (22/02): Al Hudyriat Island – Al Hudyriat Island (15 km) (= ITT)
Stage 3 (23/02): Al Ain – Jebel Hafeet (166 km)
Stage 4 (24/02): Al Marjan Island – Al Marjan Island (204 km)
Stage 5 (25/02): Fujairah – Jebel Jais (170 km)
Stage 6 (26/02): Dubai – Palm Jumeirah (168 km)
Stage 7 (27/02): Yas Marina Island – Abu Dhabi (147 km)
Photo credit: Photonews