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ABU DHABI TOUR

RACE PROFILE
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NEWS

PREVIEWS

NEWS
08.10.2015 @ 12:47 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Since 2011 the Tour of Beijing has been the final major stage race on the international calendar but after the demise of the Chinese race, the professional cycling circus will wave goodbye to the 2015 season at the brand-new Abu Dhabi Tour in the Middle East. Organized by the RCS Sport, the event aims to become a main fixture on the international cycling calendar and as partnerships with Velon and UCI have allowed it to attract a formidable line-up, the foundation is laid for what could be solid and exciting future for the fourth big stage race in the region.

 

One of the major goals for the UCI in recent year has been to globalize the professional cycling world. The international federation has received lots of criticism for their achievements in several areas but when it comes to making the sport more global, they have had plenty of success. The main events during the core part of the season may still take place in Europe – after all it is impossible to change what is a long and glorious history of the sport – but nowadays the opening and final parts of the season both offer opportunities for teams to race in other continents.

 

The trend is most evident at the start of the year when teams are desperately searching for well-organized races in good weather conditions and a time when rain and cold make Europe less suited to bike-racing. That has led to a flurry of new events and nowadays races like the Tours of Qatar and Oman, Tour Down Under, Tour de San Luis and – to a lesser extent – Tour de Langkawi have taken over the role as preferred early-season events for many of the sport’s biggest starts.

 

The trend is less evident at the tail end of the year when the riders are mostly looking forward to the off-season and some well-deserved recovery. In fact, a long journey at this time of the season is not very attractive for many riders. Hence, it is no surprise that the UCI’s attempt to end the season at the Tour of Beijing never became a big success and for many riders, it was definitely an unpleasant surprise to be asked by their respective teams to travel to China a time when rest was the only thing on their mind. The Chinese event never became a big success and after the plans to establish a second WorldTour stage race in Hangzhou never materialized, the Chinese stage race has not disappeared from the calendar.

 

This has opened the door for others to fill the void and it is no surprise that it is the wealthy Abu Dhabi that has taken the opportunity to put on a final stage race. Qatar was the first Arab country to organize a major cycling event and the Tour of Qatar has developed into one of the highlights of the month of February. Oman was the next to be attracted by the idea and with the backing of ASO, the Tours of Qatar and Oman now form a solid block of racing in the early part of the season.

 

It has never been a secret that the new management at Giro d’Italia organizers RCS Sport want to globalize both their races and their general operations and they jumped on the opportunity to team up with Dubai when the emirate wanted to put on a bike race in 2014. The inaugural Dubai Tour was probably not very exciting from a racing perspective but with the combination of RCS’ expertise and the Arab money, the well-organized event was able to attract an incredible start field. This year’s race offered a more diverse course and again there were stars in abundance for the Arab race.

 

RCS have now teamed up with another emirate, Abu Dhabi, to create a new that event that will bring the curtain down on the season. Unlike the Tour of Beijing, the Abu Dhabi Tour is not part of the WorldTour and so it doesn’t offer important WorldTour points as an incentive for riders to travel to the UAE for the race. Instead, RCS and the local organizers have taken other steps to gather a field that is the strongest ever for a stage race at this time of the year.

 

First of all, they have made joined forces with the new Velon group that has gathered several top teams and pushes for changes in cycling. One of their hopes is that active collaboration with organizers will benefit both parties. The teams can promise to line up their biggest stars while getting a share of the revenues. The collaboration with the Abu Dhabi Tour organizers is unprecedented and the results are evident. Few would have expected a stage race in October to attract the likes of Alejandro Valverde, Vincenzo Nibali, Peter Sagan, Tom Boonen, Fabio Aru, Richie Porte, Philippe Gilbert, Tom Dumoulin, Marcel Kittel, Esteban Chaves and Michael Matthews but that’s what has been made possible by the new partnership.

 

Secondly, a deal with the UCI has been made to host a UCI Cyling Gala after the conclusion of the final stage. It has always been an obvious idea to gather the biggest stars of both men’s and women’s cycling and celebrate their achievements at a big event, much like it is known from many countries where the best national riders gather for a big gala. For the first time ever, the UCI will celebrate the world champions, grand tour winners and WorldTour winners from the men’s side of the sport and the world champions and World Cup winner on the women’s side. As many riders will have to travel to Abu Dhabi for that event, they may as well do the race.

 

From a racing perspective, the race shapes up to be a bit more exciting that the Dubai Tour. This year the early-season race had three sprint stages and a lumpy stage for classics riders and it came down to a battle for bonus seconds between puncheurs and sprinters, with Mark Cavendish coming out on top. The Abu Dhabi Tour has a very similar format but in the new event, the hilly stage will be a lot more difficult and one for the true climbers. Of course the race is all about promoting Abu Dhabi so three of the stages will take place in the urban areas which are flat and suited to sprinters. However, the race will venture into the mountains on day three for a summit finish on an 10.8km climb that averages 6.6%. There is no chance that the sprinters will win this race and instead it should offer one final battle between the best climbers in the world while a formidable line-up of sprinters will battle it out for glory in the remaining stages.

 

Cycling nostalgia probably still dictates that the real season ends in Europe with the historic classics of Il Lombardia and Paris-Tours which have traditionally been the final major events for the climbers and the sprinters respectively. It is certainly true that for many, those two races will be the final big goals but it is likely that the future will see many riders travel to Abu Dhabi for one final major race. While it should have no big impact on Il Lombardia which is held before the Arabic race – and has the same organizers – it remains to be seen which kind of impact it will have on historic races like Giro dell’Emilia and Paris-Tours that will now have a tough challenge in trying to compete with what shapes up to be a very powerful collaboration between RCS and the Velon group. One thing is certain: unlike the Tour of Beijing, the Abu Dhabi Tour has a bright future as the final big stage race of the year and it is all set to kick off with a bang when a formidable field gathers for the inaugural edition of the race.

 

The course

It is a well-known fact that there is often a conflict of interests when organizers have to design their courses. On one hand, they want to design a diverse and exciting route that can inspire to great racing. On the other hand, the economic aspect plays a big role and the final outcome is often dictated by the amount of money that certain cities are willing to pay.

 

For the Abu Dhabi Tour organizers, it is evident that the main purpose of the race is to promote Abu Dhabi as a tourist destination and so most of the race has to take place in the tourist areas which are mainly flat. This makes for an obvious conflict of interest that is very similar to the challenges RCS have faced in Dubai.

 

The outcome is almost identical to the one that they found for their early-season race and the formats are identical too. The race shapes up to be a paradise for sprinters as three of the four stages will take place in the urban areas and only the wind could potentially prevent three straightforward bunch sprints. Like in Dubai, the first two stages will be for the fast riders and again the race ends with a short, flat stage in the city. This time the final leg will be held in the early evening to make for a spectacular start to UCI Cycling Gala.

 

While the sprinters will be in the spotlight for most of the time, the GC will be decided on the third stage which seems to be one for the pure climbers. Most of it will take place in the city of Al Ain but the riders will head into the nearby mountains for the finish at the top of the Jebel Haffet climb. In fact, this format makes it pretty similar to the Tour of Beijing which was also mainly a race for sprinters while the climbers decided the GC with a big mountaintop finish on the penultimate stage.

 

Stage 1:

Most of the UAE is made up of desert and so it is only fitting that the race shows off the spectacular red sand dunes that is one of the attractions of the area. They will be put on show in the first stage which will mostly take place in the spectacular scenery. Compared to stages 2 and 4, it is much lumpier but with a flat second half and no major climbs, it should be a day for the sprinters.

 

The stage will bring the riders over 174km from Qasr al Sarab to Madinat Sayed. The entire stage takes place in the stunning Rub al Khali desert part of Abu Dhabi’s Western Region. Starting among the red sand dunes that surround the beautiful Qasr Al Sarab Resort, the undulating race route accumulates about 1,200m of vertical climbing.

 

The riders will trace a ring around Liwa and the nearby oasis, passing through the town twice. The riders then head north along straight roads for 55km, with the slightest of downhill gradients, as far as the town of Madinat Zayed. After a first passage of the finish line, the peloton enters a final 14.8km loop, to be ridden just once. There will be intermediate sprints at the 70.1km and 101.5km marks.

 

The amount of climbing is limited and even though it comes late in the season, it will not be enough to challenge the sprinters. Instead, it will be the desert winds that could potentially cause some dangers. In the Dubai Tour, the wind has never really played a role and it remains to be seen if it will be any different in Abu Dhabi. Otherwise, it should be a straightforward day for the sprinters as a formidable field of fast finishers means that it will be hard for anyone to deny the sprint teams a chance to set up a bunch kick.

 

 

Stage 2:

After a day of riding in the desert, it is time for the organizers to show off the main city. While stage 1 had the wind, a bit of climbing and a longer distance to challenge the riders, their won’t be many difficulties in the second stage which is all about showing the capital and giving the sprinters another chance to go for glory.

 

The stage brings the riders over 129km from the Yas Marina Circuit in the city of Abu Dhabi to Yas Mall just metres from the site of the start. It is a flat stage across the city which heads from the start towards the southern part of the city along wide and mostly straight roads. After the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and the Exhibition Hall, the peloton turns back on itself, returning to Yas Island where they will contest an intermediate sprint, then follows the Corniche until the Emirates Palace. The second intermediate sprint comes at this point 37.7km from the finish. There the riders will face a U-turn, riding again alongside the Corniche until Yas Island, where the finish line is positioned next to the Yas Mall.

 

With a completely flat course along wide, straight roads with barely any technical challenges, this stage has bunch sprint written all over it. Even though there are no circuits, it’s a typical stage in a capital and as it takes place in urban areas, the wind is unlikely to be an issue. It has all the ingredients to be a fast affair where the sprinters will battle it out in the end.

 

 

Stage 3:

For the climbers, the 2015 Abu Dhabi Tour is mostly about survival during the many hours spent on flat roads and saving as much energy as possible for one final big effort in the 2015 season. At the end of the third stage, they will have to go full gas for the final time this year when the Arabic race is set to be decided entirely in its queen stage. While the first part of the relatively short stage is all about promoting the city of Al Qattara Souq, the climb of Jebel Hafeet is where the nature of the race will change completely and where the winner of the inaugural edition of the race will be found.

 

The stage covers 142km from Al Qattara Souq to the summit finish on Jebel Hafeet. The first 33 kilometres follow a series of broad, straight roads, then the peloton will trace a wide circle around the city, crossing the Green Mubazzarah oasis before starting the final climb. This part of the stage is completely flat and includes the two intermediate sprints at the 79.1km and 91.3km marks as the highlights.

 

10.8km long, the Jebel Hafeet ascent reaches an altitude of 1,000m on gradients that average 6.6% and touch 12% on the lower slopes. The climb, on wide, well surfaced roads and with long, sweeping bends, eases into a short descent with 1.5km to go, before resuming a shallow climb to the finish line.

 

It is hard to find much information about the climb and in general the Arabic climbs are rarely very steep. However, an average gradient of 6.6% over 10.8km definitely has the potential to do a lot of damage at this time of the year and this stage should be decided by the climbers. However, it seems that the hardest part comes on the lower slopes while the short descent and easier gradients near the top could suit punchier riders. This should set the scene for an exciting battle where the less explosive riders have to try to make the difference pretty early, trying to dislodge riders like Alejandro Valverde and Esteban Chaves who have the punch to finish it off in an uphill dash to the line. With just one largely ceremonial stage to go, this is where the overall winner will be crowned.

 

 

 

Stage 4:

It’s a tradition that the biggest stage races end with a criterium-like race in the capital while shorter stage races often see the GC battle go down to the wire on a challenging final day. Despite being just a four-day race, the Abu Dhabi Tour will do like most national tours do: end the race with a circuit race in the city centre. This should make for a spectacular end to the stage racing season when some of the best sprinters battle it out in Abu Dhabi on the final big day of racing in 2015.

 

At just 110km, the final stage is a very short one and the entire stage takes place in the Yas Marina Circuit. The peloton will complete 20 laps of the 5.5km circuit which is wide and the surface is in impeccable condition. The first part is mainly made up of long, straight roads but the final two kilomeres are technically pretty challenging, with several 90-degree turns coming in relatively quick succession. The final right-hand turn comes just a few hundred metres from the line, meaning that it will be a sprint where positioning and lead-outs are very important. There will be intermediate sprints at the end of the 5th, 10th and 15th laps.

 

The stage is largely ceremonial and unless bad luck strikes, it is unlikely that it will have an impact on GC. However, if the gaps between the best riders are small, the bonus seconds in the intermediate sprints are likely to come into play. Otherwise we should have a typical criterium where a number of riders will be keen to have one final big hit-out in the breakaway before their celebrations later in the evening. The gaps rarely get very big in this kind of stage though and it will be a big surprise if the sprint teams fail to big it back together for a final bunch kick. With the stage taking place in the early evening, it will be held simultaneously with the Paris-Tours, meaning that the big sprint classic will feel the competition from the new race very literally as we could have two simultaneous bunch sprints to bring the seasons in Europe and Abu Dhabi to a close.

 

 

The favourites

The course for the Abu Dhabi Tour is very similar to the one for the Dubai Tour and the GC battles for the two races should be equally straightforward. The inaugural edition of the early-season race was all about the opening time trial and then staying safe in the next three sprint stages while this year’s edition was mostly about the hilly third stage. However, the battle for bonus seconds meant that the sprint stages also came into play and in the end, Mark Cavendish did enough in the bunch kicks to erase his deficit from the hilly stage and take the overall win.

 

The Abu Dhabi Tour will be pretty similar but there will be the vast difference that the race includes a real mountain stage. This means that there is no chance for the sprinters, classics racers or puncheurs as this will be a race that is decided by the climbers. They will battle it out on the final climb of stage 3 which is likely to completely determine the outcome of the race.

 

However, two factors could potentially influence the outcome of the race. First of all, there is the desert wind. Stages 2 and 4 both take place in the capital and so should not be impacted by the climatic conditions. However, most of the first stage takes place in the desert and it is not impossible that a strong team will be able to split things if the conditions are right. The wind has failed to play any role in the Dubai Tour during the first two editions but it could be different in Abu Dhabi.

 

Secondly, there are the bonus seconds. As the final part of the climb on stage 3 is the easiest, the gap between the best riders could be about a few seconds as we go into the final stage. This means that the three intermediate sprints could come into play for a fast rider like Alejandro Valverde if he has a chance to turn things around on the final day. We are unlikely to see any GC riders go for bonifications in the first two stages but on the final day, there is a chance that they could come into play.

 

Based on the limited information about the climb in stage 3, it is hard to say which riders are suited to the challenge. However, it seems that the steepest sections come at the bottom while the final part is easier. There is even a small descent in the finale which leads to the final uphill drag to the line. This means that a less explosive rider like Vincenzo Nibali has to try to make the difference on the lower slopes while punchier guys like Alejandro Valverde and Esteban Chaves may be favoured in the finale.

 

Another important factor will be the heat. Temperatures can tough 40 degrees at this time of the year and that will be in stark contrast to what the riders have experienced in Europe recently. The early days in Richmond were pretty hot but the road races were held in colder conditions. Nothing really compares to what they will find in Abu Dhabi and even though they have two days to get used to the heat, much will be decided by the ability to handle the sudden change in temperature.

 

Finally, it is important to remember that this is a late-season race. Such events are always about motivation and form and you can have big surprises at this time of the year. Il Lombardia is the prime example as it is usually very hard to gauge as riders may completely explode despite their best intentions. This race is a lot less prestigious and important and for riders that have mainly been attracted by the economic incentives, it may be hard to give it 100% when the going gets really tough on a hot day in Abu Dhabi.

 

On paper, the race shape up to be a three-horse battle between Vincenzo Nibali, Alejandro Valverde and Esteban Chaves who have all proved to be in great condition at this time of the year, with Fabio Aru, Wout Poels, Rui Costa and Diegp Rosa looming as a dangerous outsider. Based on his win in Lombardy, Nibali is of course the obvious pick but we will put Chaves at the top of our list of favourites. A number of factors favour the Colombian over his rivals and it could be time for him to win his first race as a professional.

 

First of all Chaves is in impeccable condition. Apparently, the young Colombian has the very important and treasured ability to come out of a grand tour in great form. When he made his three-week debut at last year’s Vuelta a Espana, he was clearly fatigued in the final half where he completely dropped out of GC contention. Nonetheless, he bounced back with a very strong ride at Worlds and when on to take a third place in the Tour of Beijing.

 

This year it looks like a repeat. Unlike last year, he didn’t fade in the Vuelta and he rode to a fantastic fifth place. Hence, there was a much bigger chance that he would be fatigued but that turned out not to be the case when he made his return to competition in Il Lombardia. Throughout the entire race, Chaves was impressively strong. He was glued to Nibali’s wheel on the steep Muro di Sormano where Diego Rosa made the peloton explode to pieces until only a handful of riders were left and later it was Chaves preventing Nibali from escaping on the Civiglio climb as he matched his many attacks pedal stroke for pedal stroke. It looked like Chaves was a very likely winner of the race but he missed the boat when Nibali attacked on the descent and when he tried to bridge the gap with a strong attack on San Fermo della Battaglia, he was taken out of contention by crash.

 

The outcome was a relatively modest 8th place but it was evident that Chaves was one of the 2-3 strongest riders in the race. For him to be competitive over such a long distance was really impressive and he should be even better in Abu Dhabi.

 

First of all the shorter distance of the queen stage should favour him compared to a diesel engine like Nibali who has much more experience in the very long races. Secondly, he excels in the heat and both in 2014 and 2014 he achieved his best result in brutally hot conditions in the first week. Finally, the fact that explosiveness could be important in the easier final part of the climb is a big advantage for Chaves who is pretty fast in an uphill sprint. To beat the Colombian, Nibali needs to drop him and based on what we saw in Lombardy that won’t be easy. Furthermore, Chaves is evidently still extremely motivated – apparently he always is – and he will probably be a bit more eager than his Italian rival. All those factors add up to making Chaves our favourite.

 

His biggest rival will of course be Vincenzo Nibali. When he was expelled from the Vuelta, it was hard for anyone to imagine that the Italian would turn out to be the star of the autumn. The most likely scenario was that he would be ripped of motivation and head into an early off-season.

 

However, he proved his great character by heading to Sicily to train seriously and when he returned to competition, he was simply unstoppable. Before the World Championships he did four one-day races that have traditionally been won in sprints and he ripped all of them to pieces, crowning it with a win in Coppa Bernocchi. After riding as a domesique in the Worlds road race where he suffered a very untimely puncture, he returned to Europe with a bang by winning Tre Valli Varesine – which should have been too easy for him – and Il Lombardia.

 

There is no doubt that Nibali is the in-form riders at the moment and his confidence will be extremely high after his exhibitions on home soil. With a mountaintop finish likely to decide the race, the Abu Dhabi Tour offers him a perfect opportunity to also a stage race victory to his palmares.

 

Nibali has one big disadvantage: he can’t sprint. To win the race, he needs to drop his rivals before we get to the summit and his best chance comes on the steep lower slopes. If he fails to make the difference, he is likely to come up short against the punchier guys.

 

His main asset is the fact that he will be supported by what is definitely the strongest team. With Fabio Aru, Diego Rosa and Nibali, Astana have three potential winners of the race and they can also count on the support from a strong Alexey Lutsenko. If the three Italians take turns attacking, it won’t be easy for their isolated rivals to respond to every move and that could open the door for all of the Astana riders to win the race. Of course Nibali is currently the strongest so he is in prime position to win the race.

 

Alejandro Valverde is known for his huge consistency but for once he actually seems to be a bit tired. That’s very rare for a rider that is always at the top of his game from January to October but this year he has not been at his usual level after the Tour. He was unable to defend his title in the Clasica San Sebastian and his seventh place in the Vuelta was his worst result for years. He sprinted to fifth in the Worlds road race but he was never really in the race and didn’t have the legs to make his expected move. He again showed his consistency by riding to fourth in Lombardy but he was clearly not at Chaves’ or Nibali’s level.

 

Nonetheless, Valverde is always an extremely dangerous contender in this kind of race. The final part of the climb could suit explosive riders and if Valverde is still there, no one is going to beat him in an uphill sprint. He is even fast enough to go for a few bonus seconds in the flat stages too and so can allow him to ride a lot more defensively than his rivals.

 

Valverde also deals very well with the heat and there is never any question about his motivation. It is likely that money has also been a big incentive for him and Movistar to travel to Abu Dhabi – after all he usually prefers to end his season after Lombardy – but Valverde is always going all out for the win. That motivation is extremely important at this time of the season and could allow him to crown an excellent season with an overall stage race win.

 

When he turned professional in 2013, Diego Rosa immediately showed his potential but he disappeared a bit from the spotlight during an injury-plagued 2014 season. Nonetheless, he was signed by Astana and in 2015 he has taken a massive step up. In the spring he rode extremely well in the Volta a Catalunya – Richie Porte even said that he looked stronger than team leader Aru – and he played key roles for Aru in both the Giro and the Vuelta.

 

However, it is his performances in the last few weeks that have really underlined that he is a star in the making. He rode to a storming solo win in Milan-Turin and in Il Lombardia he proved that he can also handle the very long races. Despite riding on the front and covering attacks for Nibali, he was still able to stay with Alejandro Valverde and was only narrowly beaten by the Spaniard in the sprint for fourth.

 

There is no doubt that Rosa would have been a very strong contender to win the race if he had not been riding as a domestique and in Abu Dhabi he may get more of a chance. There is little doubt that Nibali is still at the top of the hierarchy and we may still see Rosa ride on the front to make the race hard. However, Astana’s best option is to use their strength in numbers by attacking in turns. At the moment, Rosa is strong enough to make the difference and as he is probably a bit less marked than Nibali, he could very well take a maiden stage race victory.

 

Fabio Aru is the third Astana card. He is no longer in his Vuelta condition but he is still in good form. He proved so by finishing third in Milan-Turin where he was his usual self, suffering on the lower slopes of the final climb and finishing very strongly. He did a good work to set up Lutsenko for the win in the Tour of Almaty before sprinting to second place.

 

However, Aru is clearly a step below both Nibali and Rosa and he may found himself at the bottom of the hierarchy. Nonetheless, he could still come out of top if the team decides to ride aggressively and attack in turns. It may as well be Aru who makes the difference and rides away with a second stage race victory this year.

 

Sky were scheduled to line up Richie Porte for a final race with the British team but it was always clear that he was never going to be a contender. The Australian is now out of the race with injury and it will be Wout Poels who leads the Brits in Abu Dhabi. The Dutchman has clearly improved his level while riding for the British team and his performances in both the Dauphiné and the Tour proved that he is now one of the very best climbers in the world.

 

Poels is clearly no longer in the same condition but he is still riding well. He won the queen stage in the Tour of Britain and was one of the strongest in Milan-Turin until he faded in the end. In Lombardy, he was one of the strongest on Muro di Sormano but then again faded in the finale. That’s no big surprise as he seems to suffer a bit in the very long races. Hence, he should find the queen stage in Abu Dhabi to his liking and as he is pretty fast in a sprint, he has the skills to win even if explosiveness turns out to be decisive.

 

Gianluca Brambilla missed the Giro d’Italia due to a broken collarbone but now he is back on top of his game. He rode a fine Vuelta to finish 13th and then did a very aggressive GranPiemonte. Most importantly he was very strong in Lombardy where he stayed with the best for a long time before finishing the race in 10th. Now he is motivated to lead his team in Abu Dhabi and the final climb suits the in-form Italian. Obviously he is not at the level of the top climbers in this race but at this time of the year, the hierarchy may have changed. He is very fast in an uphill sprint and has the explosiveness to do well here. With the support of an in-form Carlos Verona, Brambilla is likely to be in the pointy end of the race.

 

It’s been a fantastic few months for Tom Dumoulin who is still not ready to end his season. The Dutchman hopes to benefit from his condition one final time in Abu Dhabi but it remains to be seen how well he has been recovered after what has been a very hard final part of the season. The signs have been mixed after the Vuelta. He rode a disappointing time trial in Richmond but then got agonizingly close to silver in the road race where he was passed by the sprinters just metres from the line. However, he abandoned Il Lombardia where he was never really in contention. Much will depend on his motivation at this time of the year but there is a chance that he still has one big effort in his legs. On paper, the final climb is a bit too hard for him to ride for the win but that was always what everybody kept saying at the Vuelta…

 

Giovanni Visconti rode strongly in service of his leaders at the Vuelta a Espana and when he decided to skip the Worlds, he made it clear that he hoped to get some personal opportunities near the end of the season. He did so in Milan-Turin whose steep final climb was a bit too tough for him. Nonetheless, he finished strongly to take 8th. He supported Valverde in Lombardy and nearly made it to the top of the Muro di Sormano with the best. In Abu Dhabi, he is again likely to be second in the Movistar hierarchy but it could be time for Valverde to give his in-form teammate a chance to chase some personal glory.

 

Sky clearly have one of the strongest teams in this race. In addition to Poels, both Leopold König and Sebastian Henao could feature in the pointy end of the race. Of those two riders, the Czech seems to be in the best condition. He is clearly not at 100% as he was off the pace in both Milan-Turin and Il Lombardia but he wasn’t too far behind the best riders. As he had done no racing before those races, his form is likely to be growing and he could be stronger in Abu Dhabi. It is probably not enough to win the race but he could still find himself up there.

 

UPDATE: Diego Rosa won't do the race and has been replaced by Paolo Tiralongo

 

***** Esteban Chaves

**** Vincenzo Nibali, Alejandro Valverde

*** Diego Rosa, Fabio Aru, Wout Poels

** Gianluca Brambilla, Tom Dumoulin, Giovanni Visconti, Leopold König

* Carlos Verona, Dominik Nerz, Philippe Gilbert, Diego Ulissi, Sebastian Henao, Alex Cano, Jose Joaquin Rojas, Patrick Konrad, Emanuel Buchmann, Alexey Lutsenko, Bruno Pires, Eduard Vorganov, Alberto Losada

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