A relatively new race to the cycling calendar, starting back in 2014, we’re this year treated to its 4th edition. A combination of maintaining a 2.HC status and the generally good weather means the race can attract some of the biggest stars in World Cycling. Some appearance fees help too!
Last year saw Marcel Kittel take the crown after a very impressive display up the now famous Hatta Dam Wall finish, in between some great sprint victories.
Since dropping the TT after the first edition, the past two years have seen a delicately poised GC battle between 1 or 2 dominant sprinters and the puncheurs. Both times, the sprinters have prevailed with 2 stage wins being enough to take GC victory as long as they don’t lose drastic amounts of time on Hatta. This year the race has actually been extended to 5 stages, much to my surprise as I only found out when starting this write-up! Does this give the sprinters an even better chance of overall victory? Let’s take a quick look at what’s in store for them…
The organisers aren’t entirely helpful and we don’t actually have any official stage profiles aside from that of Stage 4. It shouldn’t really matter though as the rest of the stages are mainly flat affairs anyway!
A trip around some of the famous landmarks are in store for the riders before the inevitable sprint finish along the Palm Jumeirah.
Stage 2 sees a trip up the coast and a finish at Ras al Khaimah. Another sprint is on the cards but with it being close to the coast, could we get crosswinds? The early wind forecast doesn’t look promising even with winds coming from the best direction for crosswinds as they’re only 10km/h strong. Hopefully this changes!
The riders travel from coast to coast, traversing through the desert on their way. Another sprint finish is likely but I do like the look of the long-range wind forecast for Thursday…
Strong winds from a cross-tail direction, could see some chaos out on the roads.
The *cough* Queen *cough* stage of the Dubai Tour and the return to Hatta Dam. The organisers have decided to use the exact same route that they did last year. Again, we could get some strong winds out on course. The long-range forecast again looks like the section going NE to Al Malaha could be a bit exposed…
The climbs before the finish themselves can cause splits in the peloton and those who aren’t in great shape can be dropped, and depending on the pace/winds a fair few more might not make the Dam Wall with the peloton as well. The all-out sprint up the 20% 150m section will ensue. It is important to note that the road does rise ever so slightly for a couple of kilometres beforehand and this will sap the legs before the massive anaerobic, 30-second effort.
Another sprint day to end the race!
The extra sprint day does swing the race even more in favour of the sprinters. As I’ve mentioned above, 2 stage wins has been enough in the previous editions to take the GC win and this year round it is much the same. In fact, even 4 trips to the lesser spots on the podium should be enough as long as there isn’t one dominant sprinter.
Marcel Kittel starts as favourite for this race according to the bookmakers. The defending champ had a much better season last year and really came out of the blocks flying at this event. Two stage wins and an impressive 6th up Hatta saw him secure the title. He managed that even with a messed up sprint on Stage 2. If he’s on similar form, then he could be hard to beat.
Mark Cavendish won this event back in 2015. He outclassed everyone at the Tour last year but will he be as amped up for this race so early in the year? With him he has a full strength sprint team and I think that’s a sign of intent to mount a serious challenge to Kittel.
Those two riders are a cut above in terms of flat sprinting prowess and they could quite easily share all the flat stage wins.
Groenewegen and Viviani are in the tier below them but are capable of causing an upset. The Dutchman probably has a greater chance at the overall than the Italian who’s climbing is very hit or miss.
Two riders who will be hoping that the above four share the sprinting spoils and sneak onto the podium themselves on the flat stages are Degenkolb and Lobato. Both winners on Hatta Dam (2015 & 2016 respectively) they should gain time on that stage. Will it be enough to take the win though?
So it’s a sprint-fest then?
Yes and no.
Stages 1 and 5 should be bunch sprints as they are in urbanised areas protected from any prevailing weather conditions. However, the wind does look favourable for some cross winds on a couple of the stages. Namely the coastal finish on Stage 3 to Al Aqah and Stage 4 to Hatta Dam could get interesting before we even reach the wall!
Roughly 40km/h winds are being forecast for those days and we’ve seen numerous times what can happen out in the desert if there are strong winds; World Champs and Tour of Qatar from last year are great examples. This could be the first year that the wind plays a part in shaping the GC at this race.
Rather annoyingly, sprinters tend to be quite good in the wind so unless if it is absolute chaos (which I’m really hoping for) then it might be hard to completely drop them. It is however, more likely to isolate them. If that is the case, we could see some attacks from team-mates or more classics style riders once the race has been blown apart. Therefore, there are two riders I want to highlight who might spring a surprise this week.
The 24-year old had an exceptionally good first half of last year; winning a stage in Oman but more impressively finishing 6th on GC at the Giro and consequently winning the Young Riders classification. He tapered out a bit after then but was part of the World’s TTT winning squad at the end of the year. He’s a real powerhouse of a rider who can climb well but also has a great TT engine. If we do get a very reduced group of around 15 riders or so in the last 10km of a stage he has every chance of attacking and time trialling his way to the line. With a decent gap, he would be tough to beat for the rest of the race!
The Belgian really sprung onto the scene back in 2014 at the Tour of Britain, finishing 10th on GC riding as a stagiare for BMC. Since then he’s been a bit anonymous and 2016 was a relatively poor year from him, with only a couple of top 20 places in the classics (Liege & Fleche) and a 3rd on a stage at the Tour of Luxembourg. I think he’ll want to come out of the blocks firing here and is a serious contender for the Hatta stage. The wind playing up will be great for him too, after all, he is Belgian! 😏
I think Cavendish will do the business here, but if the wind starts blowing then it could be anyones game! I’ll go for Jungels in that situation.
No value in those at the top of the race, especially with dodgy conditions. Small punts on Teuns and Jungels;
0.125pt EW Teuns @ 300/1 with Bet365
0.12pt EW Jungels @ 200/1 with Bet365
Thanks again for reading! Who do you think will come out on top? Will the wind be a major factor or will it be another year for the sprinters? As usual any feedback is greatly appreciated. I will be doing daily previews for this race but they will probably be short as there isn’t that much to talk about! Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth