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Abu Dhabi welcomes a rare clash of sprint stars

Abu Dhabi Tour rivals even the Tour de France with its stacked start list of sprint stars. The race is now a WorldTour event.

ABU DHABI (VN) — Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, André Greipel, Caleb Ewan, Elia Viviani … Not often in cycling do so many sprint stars cross paths as will happen in the Abu Dhabi Tour over the next four days.

Such stars are usually only found at the Tour de France, but even in the world’s top race, that is not always the case as some teams bring rosters for the overall classification.

“I can’t remember the last time we had such a good sprint field like this together, maybe the Scheldeprijs last year,” Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) said. “It doesn’t happen that often when you have all these sprinters together.”

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Kittel spoke off to the side of a press conference at the Yas Marina Formula One circuit. The F1 track hosts the race headquarters and the final stage.

This year, the Middle Eastern race has moved from October to February and stepped up from UCI HC to the WorldTour. The start list reflects that second change.

The teams also brought their climbing stars because the winner of stage 3, a summit stage to Jabel Hafeet, should take the overall title and important WorldTour points home. However, the other three stages, starting with Thursday’s, suit sprinters.

“I have raced all these men before but not all together,” explained Ewan (Orica – Scott). He is the smallest of the group and has the most unusual nose-on-front-tire sprint style. “This is the first time that I’m going to come up against all of them in the same race.”

RCS Sport, which organizes the Giro d’Italia, began helping the Emirati with the Dubai Tour in 2014. In 2015, it did so with the Abu Dhabi Tour.

Already in its third year, the Abu Dhabi Tour is in the top WorldTour series. It follows the opening Australian races, the Santos Tour Down Under and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, and precedes Strade Bianche, Paris-Nice, and Tirreno-Adriatico back in Europe.

“This is absolutely incredible,” added Cavendish (Dimension Data). “It’s incredible what has happened with this race. To think that it’s now a WorldTour race and with the field that you sometimes don’t even see in grand tours.

“I want to win here. We were very successful last year with Dimension Data. I would like to repeat that this time around. I will try to be up there in the sprints and pick up points as it’s a WorldTour race.”

Esteban Chaves (Orica – Scott) won the summit stage in 2015 and the overall. Tanel Kangert (Astana) did so last year. The sprints were left to Cavendish, Elia Viviani (Sky), and Andrea Guardini (UAE Team Emirates).

The race will begin Thursday with a 189-kilometer stage to Madinat Zayed.

Based on the recent races, Germans Kittel and Greipel (Lotto – Soudal) should be the favorites to win. It is hard to predict, however, with so many sprinters on the start line.

“I hope to continue what I was doing in the Dubai Tour,” said Kittel, who won three stages and the overall classification there.

“We have an impressive start list here and so it’s going to be even harder for me.”