Started back in 2015, the Abu Dhabi Tour in its first two editions was an end of season filler. Typically consisting of 3 sprint stages and one mountain top finish that decided the GC, it was a race for those winding down at the end of the year; trying to get one final result.
However, that changes ever so slightly this year with its move to the start of the season in February as riders look to build form for their up and coming objectives. Its swanky new World Tour status means that teams will be hunting those elusive WT points so I expect the race to be a little more intense than it has been in the past.
The defending champion, Tanel Kangert, is back here to defend his crown but it may be hard for him to do so considering some of the climbing talent that we have here for this edition.
First however, let’s have a look at what the riders will face over the coming week.
Stage 1 features an “out and back” course through the desert, starting and finishing in Madinat Zayed.
A day that will end in a sprint and the fight for the first leader’s jersey. There is a roundabout at roughly 700m to go that will cause the bunch to be very spread out so positioning will be important. Can the wind have any impact on the stage?
Stage 2 and yep, another sprint.
This time the riders travel around the outskirts and suburbs of Abu Dhabi itself, before finishing along the marina. A right-hand turn at 300m to go can shake things up.
Stage 3 sees the day that will decide the GC battle with the finish up Jebel Hafeet.
10.8km long and averaging 6.6%, it is a a fairly challenging climb; especially when you consider that the middle 7km average 8%. This is the section where proper time gaps can be made! Who will be the rider to take the stage and GC glory?
Stage 4 and what is in my opinion, one of the worst stages in the calendar year. 26 laps of the Yas Marina motor racing circuit.
If you watch more than 10 minutes of this on Sunday instead of Kuurne, we can’t be friends! It does have some technical turns going for it in the final kilometre which may liven things up. But yeah, I despise this stage with a passion.
As I’ve mentioned above, the GC battle for this race all comes down to the climb up Jebel Hafeet. With there being no time-trial or rolling stage to contend with, it is possible for a pure climber to be involved in the shakedown too. The step up to World Tour level has increased the number of contenders here and we should have an exciting battle on our hands! I’ll just run through the start list in order.
Starting with the defending champion Kangert and his Astana team. Unfortunately for the Estonian I can’t see him repeating last year’s performance this season. Instead, the Kazakh outfit will turn to Fabio Aru as their main charge here. Off the back of a solid performance at Oman, Aru will be looking to continue his preparation for the Giro with another good outing here. He many not be at his best to win the race, but he should at least be aiming for a top 5 finish. (Or at least I’m hoping so for my fantasy team!)
Bardet comes here after a disappointing race in Oman. He was positioned relatively well going into the Green Mountain stage but was one of those riders involved in the crash that day, which really hampered his end result. Making an attack on the final day shows to me that he was frustrated and that his form is good. Certainly don’t discount him after one performance.
Nibali makes his first World Tour outing with new team Bahrain Merida after finishing 8th in San Juan back in January. Always a hard one to judge form wise, I would not be surprised if the Shark wins here, or if he finishes down in 23rd!
After their success in Oman, BMC will be hoping that Tejay Van Garderen can continue the winning streak in the Middle East. Going off of recent history, the American does seem to start of the season very well; finishing 2nd on GC at his opening stage race of the year for 4 seasons in a row. Can he make it 5 here or even finish one place higher?
Rafał Majka will get his first taste of GC leadership with Bora at this race. Another who starts off the year fairly well, he’s only had two race days so far in Spain so it is tough to gauge where he is at. However, with it being only a mountain top finish and no time trial, he certainly has a chance of a podium.
Quintana obviously starts as the big favourite here after blowing everyone away in Valenciana. The Colombian doesn’t just race to come 7th, he races to win and very rarely misses out on at least a podium at a stage race. If he’s continued that from from Spain, it should be no different here!
Quickstep will turn to Alaphilippe or Brambilla as their GC prospects here. Unfortunately though, they’ll either need to be in excellent form or get a massive dose of luck to challenge for the title here. A top 10 is manageable though!
Kudus will hope to go better than he did in Oman. A great talent, he really needs to develop the race management and tactical nous to his riding. Often he seems to attack too early which costs him in the closing kilometres. If he finally gets that right here then he could sneak onto the podium with a bit of luck!
Kruijswijk and Gesink will lead a two-pronged attack for Jumbo. On a climb like this, I’d almost say Gesink is better than his counterpart. Can they compete with Quintana and co this early in the season? Meh, probably not. Or maybe they will. I don’t know!
Another rider making his season debut is Tom Dumoulin. The Dutchman had a disappointing end to last year and I’m intrigued to see if he’s recovered mentally from that. It’s once again guesswork as to where his form is. Do you have any idea?! I think he’ll go OK, but not great, maybe 6th or something similar.
Trek come here with two great GC candidates; Contador and Mollema. They’ve both shown good early season form with Contador coming second in Ruta del Sol, and Mollema winning the GC in San Juan. The former says that he is going to work for the latter here, focussing more on Paris Nice which starts in just under two weeks time. An elaborate ruse, or is he telling the truth? Contador does seem like a team player so it is certainly plausible, but I’m more intrigued to see the logistics behind it. Will he attack to force others to follow, with Mollema sitting on? Or will he be the guy chasing attacks down? Either way, I’ll be very surprised if one of them is not on the podium by the end of the week!
Finally, “local” team, UAE Fly Emirates have two riders who can challenge the top 10, in Costa and Ulissi. But I can’t see them doing any better than that.
There are some teams/riders that I’ve missed out, but I don’t want to keep you here all day!
Quintana more than likely wins. Boring I know, but I’m hardly ever like this so I’m allowed to do it at least once or twice a season, right?
Bardet and Mollema to round out the podium!
Think there is a bit of value away from the top of the order and with my 2 podium shouts. The debate I’m having with myself is if it’s worthwhile backing them for GC, or just waiting until Stage 3?!
Will Bardet start as a 10/1 shot on Stage 3, likewise, will Mollema start at 18/1 (current GC prices with Betfair)?
Hmmmm. I think I’ll just leave it until Saturday: unless of course odds elsewhere are much better! If Bardet is 14s anywhere I’ll take that, the same with Mollema at 22/1.
So a no bet, for now.
Thanks for reading and as per usual, any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do oyu think will win? Can anyone beat Quintana? I will have a Stage 1 preview out later today, most likely evening some point when we get more odds available. Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.