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Abu Dhabi Tour makes a speedy rise to cycling’s top level

The Abu Dhabi Tour prepares for an HC-rated second edition this October, with a WorldTour bump right around the corner this coming February

ABU DHABI (VN) — The first edition of the Abu Dhabi Tour began with a slow crawl through the sand dunes in 2015, but the race is quickly making up lost time. This October, the four-day event on the Arabian Peninsula will be HC-rated on the Asia Tour, and only four months later in February 2017, it will run again as a WorldTour race.

At the swank St. Regis Hotel this afternoon, when the mercury sat at 104°F, the organizer presented the 2016 edition of the event, which runs from October 20 to 23. The race again features the Jebel Hafeet summit finish and welcomes stars Alberto Contador (Tinkoff), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), and Bradley Wiggins racing with his eponymous development team.

“It’s stressful to plan it all with the second edition this October and already a third edition in February, but it’s exciting to see how this race has grown,” Lorenzo Giorgetti, CEO of RCS Sport and Events told VeloNews.

“We took it from zero to WorldTour in less than three years. That’s thanks to the Sports Council in Abu Dhabi and all the support they are giving, and what RCS Sport put in.”

RCS Sport, organizer of the Giro d’Italia, found its niche in the Middle East. It first helped run the Dubai Tour in the neighboring emirate and last year, the Abu Dhabi Tour. The Abu Dubai Tour held an important spot in the calendar as the last event many top riders attended, and the oil-rich nation celebrated by hosting an end-of-season gala like the sport had never seen before.

This October, the tour takes on a new twist. Many of the world championships’ participants will take a direct one-hour flight from Qatar, a nearby Gulf State, to arrive in Abu Dhabi. The tour will be the UCI’s last big event of 2016 and to celebrate, like in 2015, the governing body will host a gala with stars like Olympic champion Van Avermaet.

RCS Sport and Abu Dhabi know how to adjust with the changing tide. Instated of sticking to its fall date, it agreed to move to the spring to help gain its WorldTour status for 2017. It will mark the end of the Gulf series with the Dubai Tour, Tour of Qatar, and Tour of Oman coming beforehand in February.

Doing so, the organizer has a cooler month that will allow more fans to watch roadside and attend events. It also appeases the riders and teams, which, last year, felt the heat hit in a strong wave like never before.

Riders said that their SRMs recorded road temperatures in the 120°s with the mercury showing 105-plus. They slowed and spoke with the organizer, who cut the final circuits of the opening stage.

Instead of fighting, the organizer adjusted and grew as a result. This year, the race will look mostly like the 2016 edition. The summit finish to Jebel Hafeet is back. Wout Poels (Sky) looked on his way to win the stage and overall last year until he crashed in the final corner and opened door for Colombian Esteban Chaves (Orica – BikeExchange).

Next year, the newly WorldTour-rated race will still span four days, but its stages will run longer and, because of the cooler temperatures, visit new places around Abu Dhabi.