Yes, the road cycling season has returned, and the WorldTour kicks off soon with the UAE Tour on 20th February — offering a chance for the biggest names in the sport to do battle on the world stage.
The seven-day stage race begins on Sunday, 20th February and runs until Saturday, 26th February with a mix of flat stages for the sprinters, an individual time trial and a couple of mountain stages for the general classification riders. As ever, crosswinds, and consequent echelons, are highly probable – if not inevitable.
Last year saw double Tour de France champion Tadej Pogačar taking the overall title, as he managed to hold off the challenge of Ineos’ Adam Yates, much to the delight of his team sponsors.
In 2022, Pogačar is set to once again start his season at UAE Tour.
The route totals 1,058km — and the multi-faceted terrain has, as ever, attracted the world’s best sprinters and climbers to the UAE. That’s helped in no small part by the race offering the first UCI WorldTour points of the season.
Stage one: Madinat Zayed to Madinat Zayed (185km) 20th February
Many stages at the UAE start and finish at the same point, in contrast to more typical A to B stage races in other events. The 185km opening stage around Madinat Zayed is a point in case.
An almost pancake flat stage treks through the open desert with some little dimples in the middle.
This means we should see one of the first major dashes to the line by some of the top names in WorldTour sprinting, with the winner wearing the first red leader’s jersey of the 2022 race.
Stage two: Hudayriyat Island to Abu Dhabi Breakwater (173km) 21st February
Another flat day that is nailed on for another sprint to the line. The stage takes in some of Abu Dhabi’s best known sites, including the Yas Marina Formula 1 circuit.
There is also a section along the coast that could potentially see some crosswinds, so stage and overall favourites will have to be careful.
Stage three: Ajman to Ajman ITT (9km) 22nd February
If the wind doesn’t rip the race apart, the individual time trial will make sure there are solid gaps between riders before heading to the first mountainous test of the race.
Last year saw world champion FIlippo Ganna dominate this stage with Pogačar taking vital time over his main rivals, which turned out to be the fatal blow to the other favourite’s GC hopes.
Stage four: Fujairah Fort to Jebel Jais (181km) 23rd February
The longest climb of the two in this year’s race comes first on stage 4 with the Jebel Jais. At around 20km, the climb heads up to 1491 metres above sea level and has an average gradient of 5.4% with a maximum kick of 7.4%.
Last year saw Jonas Vingegaard make his first appearance as a new talent — bursting out of Denmark with a stage win atop the climb. He, of course, went on to battle Pogačar at the Tour de France, finishing second overall.
The GC of the race itself wasn’t changed that day, as Pogačar followed Yates, his closest rival, all the way to the line.
Stage five: Ras al Khaimah Corniche to Al Marjan Island (182km) 24th February
After two stages away, the sprinters get their call to step up again with another pan-flat stage, heading over 182km of riding in the baking hot sun. Although, there may be a coastal breeze as they return to the coast.
Once again, the wind could play a significant part in the stage results as the sprinters' teams aim to control the peloton, while the GC leader’s will position their teams carefully to avoid a split in the field.
Stage six: Expo 2020 Dubai to Expo 2020 Dubai (180km) 25th February
The penultimate stage of the UAE Tour stays on the coast as we head to the big city. The 180km loop takes in all the sites of Dubai including a quick trip along the edge of the Palm Jumeirah island for the first of two intermediate sprints.
The race has previously had stage finishes on the famous palm-tree shaped island, and so too the Dubai Tour has finished there.
From there, the route takes in one more small loop and another intermediate sprint before heading to what looks like a very technical finish by the Dubai 2020 Expo site.
Stage seven: Al Ain to Jebel Hafeet (148km) 26th February
Starting at the base of the Jebel Hafeet, the final stage of the race sees riders head out of the town of Al Ain, taking in a little desert, before returning to town.
After meandering through the streets of Al Ain the riders face the Jebel Hafeet. While it is shorter than the Jais seen earlier in the race, the Hafeet is far steeper with an average gradient of 7.2%, with a peak of 10.8% finishing at 1,025 metres above sea level.
There are a few big names set to ride in UAE, but Tadej Pogačar will be the standout favourite to add a second overall title to his victory last year for his UAE Team Emirates squad.
His new teammate for 2022 is another potential leader, as João Almeida makes his first appearance for UAE Team Emirates.
Aleksandr Vlasov continues his debut season for Bora-Hansgrohe after a solid start at the Mallorca Challenge races but the UAE Tour will suit his mountain-goat profile even more.
Vuelta a España podium finisher, Jack Haig, starts his season for Bahrain Victorious, after a very successful first season with the team last year.
Tom Dumoulin is coming as the main leader for the Dutch Jumbo-Visma team as he works towards battling it out for a hit at a Grand Tour GC battle.
The sprinters currently down to come to the race are some of the worlds best with Caleb Ewan, Sam Bennett, Mark Cavendish Jasper Philipsen, Elia Viviani, Dylan Groenewegen, Mads Pedersen and Arnaud Démare all down to ride.
For the GC, I think it is hard to look past Pogačar, even though he is coming up against some real firepower. But, the Slovenian has proved almost impossible to beat. If he’s in any sort of form and isn’t caught out by crashes or a crosswind, he should take the overall win.
For the sprinters’ jersey, only Ewan, Groenewegen and Pedersen have shown their cards in races so far this season, in Saudi Arabia and France, but Sam Bennett will be a hot favourite for the fastest man on the road, much as he was last year.