MADRID (VN) — The inaugural Dubai Tour, which opens Wednesday in the United Arab Emirates, is drawing big names, including world champion Rui Costa, Tour de France green jersey Peter Sagan, and Giro d’Italia champion Vincenzo Nibali, but the real story will be the first showdown of the season between top sprinters Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel.
In fact, the four-day race in and around the bustling city of Dubai will be the first time the pair has faced off since the Champs Élysées in July, when Kittel (Giant-Shimano) confirmed his supremacy in the 2013 Tour de France sprints with his fourth victory.
Both are keen to return to the trenches. Kittel won a race during his season debut in Australia, taking bragging rights in the 50-kilometer criterium ahead of the Santos Tour Down Under. Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) debuted at the Tour de San Luís in January without winning a stage.
The Dubai Tour will provide a preview of what’s in store for the remainder of the season.
Kittel will have the pressure to confirm his arrival as an elite sprinter, while Cavendish will be under the gun to remind everyone who’s the fastest rider in the peloton.
“I want to win sprints, not beat one certain rider,” Kittel said when asked if he was more motivated to try to beat Cavendish. “Last year was very important because now we know we can do it. It gives us more confidence this season.”
Kittel’s train, which emerged as a major force in 2013, returns intact this season, with Koen de Kort and Tom Veelers ready to lead Kittel out with a straight shot to the line.
“We have even more confidence in Marcel after the season we had last year,” de Kort told VeloNews. “Everyone knows their role on the team, and everyone is working together. We hope to keep it going this year the same as last year.”
Cavendish, meanwhile, sees the return of longtime leadout man Mark Renshaw, as well as veteran sprinter Alessandro Petacchi.
Renshaw rejoins Cavendish following two years having his own chances with Rabobank (now Belkin), while Petacchi has also given up his ambitions in the sprints to help bolster Cavendish’s leadout train.
Dubai will see Renshaw and Cavendish reunited for the first time since the former joined Omega Pharma in the offseason. Renshaw debuted at the Tour Down Under, where he sprinted to second behind André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) in the final stage.
“I am looking forward to helping Mark again, not only with myself, but a whole host of other riders,” Renshaw told VeloNews. “Eventually, I was always happy to go back to work with him, but I wanted to a chance to take wins.”
Cavendish and Kittel are not the only sprinters starting in Dubai — Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp), Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek Factory Racing), Thor Hushovd (BMC Racing), and Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida) will also toe the line — but all eyes will certainly be on them.
The course for the inaugural Dubai Tour
Kittel and Cavendish should have two shots at sprints during four days of racing.
The first stage is a 9.9km individual time trial through the wide boulevards of Dubai that should see 2008 Olympic champion Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), world champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), and Giro d’Italia stage winner Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) face off for the victory.
Stage 3 leaves the urban jungle of Dubai and heads into the desert country, and features some minor climbs, including two moderate ramps in the closing 50km that could spring the likes of Sagan, Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), or Ryder Hesjedal, who makes his season debut for Garmin-Sharp.
Kittel, Cavendish, and the other sprinters will certainly have their shots in stages 2 and 4, both urban circuits past some of Dubai’s most emblematic buildings.
With 16 teams, including a new Dubai-sponsored team with WorldTour ambitions, the Dubai Tour will be the latest high-profile race in the oil-rich region, also home to February’s Tours of Qatar and Oman. Not to be outdone by its neighbors, Dubai wanted to get in on the cycling game, sealing the deal with Giro d’Italia owner RCS Sport to organize the race.
Perhaps it’s only fitting that the leader’s jerseys are designed by Versace.
Tour of Dubai, Feb. 5-8
Stage 1: Dubai-Dubai (9.9km ITT)
Stage 2: Dubai to Palm Jumeirah (122km)
Stage 3: Dubai to Hatta (162km)
Stage 4: Dubai to Burj-Khalifa (123km)