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Nearly one year ago, the UAE Tour was one of the first international events impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The race was shuttered, and riders and staffers were locked inside hotel rooms in what was a preview of what was waiting for the rest of the world.
Next month, race officials are moving forward with the race — February 21-27 — that they say will guarantee rider safety and health even as pandemic conditions worsen across much of Europe. And hopefully not see a repeat of what happened last year.
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“The health and safety of our guests – the riders, team and race officials, as well as fans – is our top priority, and the routes and stages for 2021 UAE Tour have been decided with those concerns in mind,” said Saeed Hareb, Secretary General Dubai Sports Council. “Hosting the UAE Tour this year, in these challenging times … is a testimony to our success as a nation in the fight against COVID-19, and a vote of confidence in UAE’s ability to host top international sporting events in a completely safe environment.”
Officials said Wednesday that a battery of safety measures will be unveiled as top riders such as Chris Froome (Israel Start-Up Nation) and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) are among the top names flying in from Europe. All 19 WorldTour teams have committed to the race.
Riders and staffers will be checked for COVID-19 before leaving and upon arrival in the United Arab Emirates, flying via special charter flights from Europe. The race will re-create the “race bubble” concept that worked well across the WorldTour events in 2020, and riders will stay distanced from the larger public.
With the cancelation of such events as the Santos Tour Down Under and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, the UAE Tour will open the 2021 WorldTour calendar. So far, UCI officials have remained quiet about a growing wave of early season race cancelations, and many in the peloton are bracing for more disruptions.
Following the cancelation of February races at Ruta del Sol and Volta ao Algarve, more teams are pivoting toward the UAE Tour and will bring some riders who otherwise had expected to stay in Europe.
The race will see the first face-off in 2021 between Froome and Tour de France champion Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Emirates), who will race against each other for the first time since the 2020 UAE Tour. Last year, Pogačar won a stage and finished second overall before the race was canceled, while Froome was making his first start since his crash in 2019. Following weeks of intense training in California, Froome will make his debut in Israel Start-Up Nation colors.
Pogačar also makes his season debut following a team camp where he and his teammates became the first WorldTour team to receive COVID-19 vaccines.
“I’m very pleased to be kicking-off my season at the UAE Tour,” Pogačar said. “I’m feeling good and motivated to race. After the stage win last year I’m coming back hungry for more. This is a huge event for myself and all the team and we will be here to fight for victories at our home race.”
The UAE Tour is back for its third edition and will help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the creation of the United Arab Emirates.
New for the seven-stage route in 2021 will be a return of a time trial stage, set for stage 2. There are four stages well-suited for sprinters, and a fleet of the world’s best sprinters will start, including Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal), and Fernando Gaviria (UAE-Emirates). Two stages finishing on sharp climbs will help decide the GC.