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Hesjedal, Contador and Nibali open season in Dubai this weekend

Three grand tour champs are in the Middle East to promote cycling in the Arab emirate

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Ryder Hesjedal will join Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali this weekend in Dubai for an exhibition race in the Arab emirate.

The three grand tour winners will square off in a one-kilometer time trial in an open-air velodrome.

Giro d’Italia champ Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) spent New Year’s Eve watching a spectacular fireworks display, while Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) and Nibali (Astana) have been training in Dubai over the past few days.

Dubai officials invited all three grand tour winners in part to raise the profile of the sport and lay the ground work for more cycling events in the future.

Nibali and Contador will face off for real in their respective season debuts at the Tour de San Luís in Argentina, January 21-27, while Hesjedal will take a later start to his 2013 season.

Hesjedal and Nibali will be seeing plenty of each other this season, with both taking aim at the Giro in May as their first major goal of the season.

“It will be an honor to start the Giro with the No. 1 bib,” Hesjedal told VeloNews in a recent interview. “I’ll definitely be racing the Giro. Even if I do not win again, it’s great preparation for the Tour.”

Nibali is expected to take a pass on the Tour de France and reload for the Vuelta a España, which he won in 2010, before a run at the rainbow jersey at the world championships on Italian roads in Florence.

Contador, meanwhile, is betting everything on the Tour. Saxo is assured of a start in Corsica, and the Spanish rider is making the Tour the central focus of his 2013 season, with the possibility of later racing the Vuelta still in the cards.

Hesjedal, meanwhile, is the only rider of the three in Dubai this weekend expected to attempt the Giro-Tour double.

Speaking to VeloNews at the end of last season, Hesjedal said he believes the best preparation for the Tour comes via racing the Giro.

“The double is possible if you handle it the right way. (In 2012), I actually felt stronger at the Tour than I did at the Giro,” he said. “Everything has to go right. You cannot have any crashes, any illnesses. The Giro is a great race and I can go (this) year without any pressure and see what happens.”

Unfortunately for Hesjedal, he crashed out of the 2012 Tour before hitting the mountains and testing his legs.

A more mountainous route for the 2013 Tour suits Canada’s first grand tour winner even better.

With both Hesjedal and Nibali targeting the Italian tour, the Giro should see one of its best lineups ever.

Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins (Sky) has already pointed to the Giro as his major goal for the 2013 season. Chris Froome will prepare exclusively for the Tour while Wiggins will attempt to win the maglia rosa before heading to his Tour defense.