The fifth edition of the UAE Tour kicks off on the February 20, 2023 and there is a stacked list of talent planning to take to the start line. Remco Evenepoel is the headline act in his world champion’s jersey, but he will be challenged for overall victory by the likes of Adam Yates and Pello Bilbao. Stages three and seven will be crucial for those targeting the general classification victory as the peloton ascend both the Jebel Jais and Jebel Hafeet climbs, but a team time trial on stage two could also end up being a deciding factor of the overall race winner.
However, the UAE Tour isn’t just about the general classification competition, it’s a race that also is important to the sprinters of the peloton. The wide, flat roads of the UAE are the perfect stage for hectic bunch kicks and there are four stages in the race which should give the fast men a chance to shine. All eyes will be on the likes of Mark Cavendish, Caleb Ewan, Sam Bennett and Dylan Groenewegen to see who has dialled in their sprint and lead out trains over the winter and we can expect some furious battles for victory.
Here are they key contenders and our prediction for the winner of the 2023 men’s UAE Tour.
It’s of little surprise that world champion Remco Evenepoel sits at the very top of the list of favourites to take victory at the 2023 men’s UAE Tour. The 23-year-old Belgian prodigy has taken the cycling world by storm in the last couple of years, winning the Vuelta a España, the Tour of Norway, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, San Sebastian and that coveted rainbow jersey in 2022 alone. Evenepoel is incredibly well-suited to the punchy and long climbs that he will face in the UAE Tour and he will be targeting stages three and seven to make his moves on both the Jebel Jais and Jebel Hafeet climbs. The team time trial on stage two of the race will also be crucial for Evenepoel’s GC ambitions and his Soudal - Quick-Step team have a good chance of doing well here with a number of riders in their line-up that will excel on the flat TTT course.
Evenepoel has already raced once this season at the Vuelta a San Juan Internacional where he finished in seventh place. Many people, including Evenepoel himself, would likely have been expecting more from the world champion in San Juan, but his tactical error on the race’s queen stage to Alto Colorado put Evenepoel’s GC hopes at that race out of the window. Evenepoel admitted after the stage that he’d made an attack too early on the climb and hadn’t thought about it properly, but noted that it was better to make that error in a smaller race than on the biggest stage. It will be interesting to see if the Belgian’s tactics have improved in the UAE Tour and if he has learnt from his mistakes in San Juan. All eyes will be watching Evenepoel on the climbs to see when he will launch his attack, so dealing with that pressure will also be an important part of his bid for overall glory at this race.
A new recruit for UAE Team Emirates for the 2023 season, Adam Yates is currently the only non-Slovenian rider to have taken victory in the UAE Tour in the past. Primož Roglič won the first edition of the race in 2019, before Yates was able to take victory in 2020, beating none other than Tadej Pogačar that year and winning by over one minute on the mountainous stage to Jebel Hafeet. Since 2020, Yates has been unable to beat two-time winner Pogačar at the UAE Tour – although admittedly has come close – finishing in second place in both 2021 and 2022 behind the Slovenian rider. For 2023, Pogačar has opted not to start in the UAE Tour, which should give Yates an opportunity to take victory. It’s especially important for Yates’ new team that he takes the win in the Middle East, given it is the home race of their sponsor.
It’s clear that UAE Team Emirates have a lot riding on this race when looking at the team they have brought to support Yates in his bid for victory. The likes of Marc Soler and Brandon McNulty will be key domestiques for the Brit in the mountains, and McNulty especially should be valuable in the team time trial stage. While some outfits will come to the UAE Tour with sprint and GC ambitions – such as Soudal - Quick-Step who also bring Tim Merlier for the sprint stages – UAE Team Emirates appears to be focussing almost solely on the overall win, which should mean Yates has plenty of support around him. The British rider is yet to race so far this season, so his form is a bit of an unknown, but a look back at his palmarès tells us that Yates is often going well at this stage of the season and without Pogačar there, all eyes are on him to perform.
Jay Vine at the 2022 Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race (Image: Zac Wiliams/SWpix)
UAE Team Emirates have a two-pronged approach to the GC battle at the UAE Tour with Australian rider Jay Vine also in with a shot of winning alongside Yates. The 27-year-old has already had a seriously impressive start to the season, winning the Tour Down Under and the Australian Individual Time Trial title earlier this year. The rolling parcours and punchy climbs at the UAE Tour are not too dissimilar to those at the Tour Down Under, so Vine is clearly well-suited to this type of terrain. After his breakthrough performances at last year’s Vuelta a España, Vine seems to be improving his race craft with each race he competes in, appearing more tactically astute than ever before. His move to UAE Team Emirates also looks to have suited him well, with Vine appearing to relish the support he gets from the team as a dedicated GC rider for the shorter stage races.
It is going to be interesting to see whether UAE Team Emirates have a clear leader at the UAE Tour ahead of the race, or if they will let the road decide if Yates or Vine will be the one to go for GC victory. Sometimes having multiple options in one team can work well, but it can also cause tension and confusion on the road if not managed correctly. Either way, Vine will be an asset to the team whether he goes for victory himself or is supporting Yates on the tough climb to Jebel Hefeet.
Spanish climber Pello Bilbao has already had a stellar and busy start to the 2023 season, racing in both the Tour Down Under and Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana. The Bahrain-Victorious rider took an impressive victory on stage three of the Tour Down Under, beating both Adam Yates and Jay Vine on the punchy Corkscrew climb and he went on to finish fourth overall on the general classification, an important sign that he is firing on all cylinders despite it only being the early stages of the season. A couple of weeks later in Valencia, Bilbao had another strong performance, finishing second on the stage to Alto de Pinos and never outside of the top-10 in the remaining three stages of the race, leaving him fourth overall on GC.
Bilbao is well-suited to the parcours at the UAE Tour, finishing third overall in this race in 2022 after being the best of the rest behind Pogačar and Yates on the Jebel Hafeet climb. With Bilbao having more racing in his legs than Yates already this year, it could be that he is sharper than his rival and might have the upper hand. Bahrain-Victorious also have a good track record when it comes to team time trials, finishing in third place when the UAE Tour opened with a TTT in 2019. If the general classification times are still close by the end of the race, the team time trial could prove crucial in deciding the overall winner.
Twenty-one-year-old neo-pro Tom Gloag shocked many with his performances at the recent Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, a race in which he won the white jersey and finished second on the queen stage to Alto de la Cueva Santa. He’s certainly an outside bet for victory in the UAE Tour, but recent performances tell us that he can’t be fully counted out. The young Brit has proven his climbing prowess all through the under-23 ranks in races like the Tour l’Avenir and Baby Giro and seems to have stepped seamlessly into the professional category.
Should he be given the opportunity to go for his own GC result at the UAE Tour, Gloag will be supported by the likes of Sepp Kuss which could make Jumbo-Visma a force to be reckoned with on the climbs.
Gloag during stage three of the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana (Image: Getty)
Gloag’s relative inexperience in the peloton could be his downfall at the UAE Tour; he’s never competed at a WorldTour level race (although the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana did have a high-quality field) and the threat of crosswinds might be a problem for him as it can take years of practice to perfect riding in those conditions. It’s a big ask for Gloag to compete with the likes of Evenepoel and Yates, but cycling’s recent history of young talent outperforming expectations is a sign that Gloag does have a small chance here. The hilly stages to Jebel Jais and Jebel Hefeet will be where the British rider shines.
Another young rider in his first couple of years as a professional, 21-year-old Ben Tulett is an outsider for victory at the 2023 UAE Tour. The neo-pro had an impressive opening season with the Ineos Grenadiers last year, taking a stage win and second place overall in the 2.1 registered Italian race, Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali. Tulett also came fifth overall in a stacked field at the Tour of Poland last year, and finished his first Grand Tour with two top-five finishes in stages of the Giro d’Italia. What’s more, Tulett has had a solid start to his 2023 season too with a sixth place at Jaén Paraiso Interior and a third place in the time trial stage of Etoile de Bessèges.
The British rider has been touted as a future Grand Tour hopeful for the Ineos Grenadiers and also performs well on the punchy terrain of the Ardennes Classics. This means the hills at the UAE Tour will suit Tulett and he should be able to climb with the best in the mountainous stages. Ineos also will bring a strong team for the team time trial on stage two with the likes of Junior ITT World Champion Josh Tarling in their mix, as well as powerhouses such as Cameron Wurf and Kim Heiduk. Like Gloag, Tulett will have relative inexperience compared to some of his competitors, but he is in with a shot of some impressive results if everything goes well for him on the day.
Sprinters to watch at the 2023 UAE Tour
While the UAE Tour will provide a backdrop for some of the most impressive climbers in the world to fight it out for victory, much of the focus throughout the race will be on the four flat stages. We are expecting to see a showdown between some of the best sprinters in the peloton here with this being one of the stage races with the most opportunities for the fast men.
Perhaps the most famous name on the start list is 34-time Tour de France stage winner Mark Cavendish. The British rider will come to the race in the colours of his new team, Astana Qazaqstan, and with the support of his new lead-out man Cees Bol. The UAE Tour will be one of the first times that we will get to see how Cavendish has bonded with his new team-mates and if they have managed to dial in a good sprint train after a hectic winter. One of the biggest challengers to the Manxman will be Lotto-Dstny’s Caleb Ewan. The Australian sprinter has been trying to get back to his best for the past year after being unable to secure a Grand Tour stage win in 2022. Ewan’s victory in the Schwalbe Classic at the start of the season was a good sign for Lotto Dstny, but the UAE Tour will be an opportunity to see if he can claim victory on a bigger stage.
Dylan Groenewegen wins stage one of the Saudi Tour (Image: Getty/Alex Broadway)
Sam Bennett of Bora-Hansgrohe is another big name sprinter on the list and he’s already opened up his 2023 win tally with victory in stage one of the Vuelta a San Juan. Bennett and his leadout man, Danny van Poppel, will hope to disrupt the likes of Cavendish and Ewan in order to get as many stage wins as possible in the UAE. Dylan Groenewegen of Team Jayco-Alula is another rider with a victory to his name already in 2023 after he won the opening stage of the Saudi Tour a few weeks ago. The Dutch rider is tough to beat if things go right on the day, so he’s another sprinter to keep an eye on. Olav Kooij from Team Jumbo-Visma is an exciting young talent who has had impressive results in the fast finishes in his pro career so far, so he will also be hoping to perform well in the sprint stages.
From Soudal - Quick-Step, Tim Merlier will be hoping to get involved in the pointy end of the flat stages and secure his first sprint win of the season. Sam Welsford of Team DSM is another rider to watch after he impressed with two back to back stage wins at the Vuelta a San Juan a few weeks ago and Juan Sebastián Molano from UAE Team Emirates could also be up there in the flat stages. Elia Viviani also returns to the road peloton with the Ineos Grenadiers after competing in the European Track Championships and the Italian rider will be up for the fast finishes here.
UAE Tour prediction
We’re backing Adam Yates to take the overall victory in the 2023 edition of the men’s UAE Tour. Without Pogačar present, Yates has all of the support and freedom to go for glory and he also has the added motivation of it being his team’s home race.