Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
ABU DHABI (VN) – The UAE Tour roars back for its fifth edition Monday in the second WorldTour stage race of the calendar and the de facto gateway to the classics and marquee stage races of spring.
Two-time defending champion Tadej Pogačar won’t be there, but UAE Team Emirates takes enough power to make its home backers blush.
Remco Evenepoel fills the spotlight in his return to the Emirati race for the first time since his 2019 neo-pro WorldTour debut, and Mark Cavendish will be under the microscope in his first race with leadout man number one, Cees Bol.
Evenepoel, Cavendish and the UAE team triumvirate of Adam Yates, Jay Vine and Brandon McNulty all shoulder different pressures in the sand dunes and city centers of the Emirates.
Here’s what you need to be watching out for across the four sprint finishes, two mountain top finals, and TTT this coming week:
Yates, McNulty, Vine: The home team and the leadership hierarchy
UAE Team Emirates heads to its home race without two-time defending champion and peloton dominator Tadej Pogačar but carries all the pressure of the nation’s own team with a seven-rider selection designed to see the peloton suffer.
Adam Yates, Jay Vine and Brandon McNulty top the teamsheet in the UAE for a massive multi-prong play.
“When it comes to objectives this race sits extremely highly on the list. Along with the Tour de France, it’s the pinnacle of our season,” team director Joxean Matxin Fernandez said.
“The aim will be to go back and try to defend our title from last year. Yates will make his debut with us and will take the role as leader, though as is our nature as a team we will have different options throughout the race as it unfolds.”
And as if that wasn’t enough burden already, Yates is the last UAE Tour champion (in 2020) before Pogačar and is yet to race on his sparkly new Colnago.
“I’m really excited and motivated to finally start racing with the team,” he said. “UAE Tour is a really nice race to go to and it’s a place that’s suited me well in the past. There’s a little more pressure with the UAE jersey on my back now but that only gives me more motivation to do well.”
Yates is flanked by a formidable support crew in U.S. talent McNulty and Tour Down Under champion Vine.
Can the UAE’s trident deliver another trophy?
Yates needs to come hot out of the gate after four months away from racing. Vine is brimming with ambition and carrying Aussie-summer form. McNulty bounds out of a solid top-10 overall at Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and wants to stake his claim in the GC hierarchy.
With Pogačar returning to the Tour de France this summer and João Almeida slated for the Giro d’Italia, the UAE Emirates “B Team” has Vuelta a España leadership and superdomestique selections to impress team bosses for.
Dynamics in the UAE Emirates team bus could be deliciously interesting this coming week.
Cavendish and the Super Bowl of the sprinters
Mark Cavendish, Sam Bennett, Tim Merlier, Dylan Groenewegen, Caleb Ewan, Arnaud Démare and Fernando Gaviria? It’s more or less a sprinter Super Bowl.
Fabio Jakobsen is the only name missing from what will be a bunch sprint spectacular at the UAE Tour.
Unless several notoriously windy desert sections cause carnage, four dead-flat finishes will offer the cream of the fast-finishing crop the chance to score chest-beater bragging rights in the first WorldTour sprint stages of the season.
Cavendish and his Astana teammates will want to touch down early in this sandy Super Bowl.
The UAE race marks his first turnout with new leadout man number one, Cees Bol. Davide Martinelli also slots into the seven for what could be the Astana sprinter A-Team if Martin Laas were also there.
Unlike Bennett, Ewan, Merlier, Groenewegen, and Gaviria, Cavendish is yet to open his account on 2023.
The Manx saw little opportunity in his 2023 Omani debut and will want to get his train on the tracks as he rumbles toward a potential Giro d’Italia tester ahead of his hotly hyped Tour de France challenge.
And for the rest of the UAE’s sprinter elite?
The Emirati race marks the gateway to WorldTour busy-season, and each of those four fast finishes offers opportunity to smooth leadout kinks and get an early dig in the season-long bunch sprint brawl.
Evenepoel and the lessons of Argentina
“I did a stupid move.”
That’s how Remco Evenepoel branded the impetuous attack that maybe lost him a spot on the podium of the Vuelta a San Juan last month.
With Tadej Pogačar bypassing the UAE, Evenepoel and his stripey jersey take center stage in the 2023 race. The 23-year-old made the UAE Tour one of his first big goals for the season, with the race circled as a key stepping stone toward his Liège-Bastogne-Liège defense and Giro d’Italia assault.
Evenepoel carries favorites’ status into the Emirati Tour and all eyes will be on how the rainbow bands perform after errors potentially proved pivotal in Argentina.
“We travel to the UAE with a lot of confidence, given by the strong team we have for this race and the shape our two leaders – Remco and Tim [Merlier] – have displayed in their first races of the season,” team director Geert Van Bondt said.
A showdown with Giro rival Primož Roglič looms on the near horizon at the Volta Catalunya in March.
Evenepoel and his Quick-Step climber unit will want to iron out any “stupid moves” in the UAE in what makes for the world champion’s last early season competition of a stripped-back 2023 race program.
“Every race I’m doing is with the idea to be on the podium or at least win a stage,” Evenepoel said earlier this year. “I’m not doing a lot of races but they are all, apart from San Juan, at the highest level.”
After the Emirates, Catalunya and then the classics come very soon.
Any problems in the UAE Tour won’t be crucial this early in the year. But they will see the pressure piling onto the young star’s shoulders as his race program gets more prestigious and more powerpacked by the month.