The UAE Tour is where the WorldTour begins.
It is the first race on the WorldTour calendar in 2021 after the Santos Tour Down Under was cancelled due to the global pandemic. This means we will see a supercharged startlist, with the likes of Chris Froome and Tadej Pogačar in attendance.
Mathieu van der Poel animated the first stage with a win from the bunch sprint, despite coming to the race as lead-out man for Jasper Philipsen. He currently sits in the overall lead.
The 2021 route features an individual time-trial for the first time since 2018, which takes place on stage two around Hudayriat Island. 13 kilometres in length, it will be the first chance for the GC challengers to gain time.
Filippo Ganna will attempt to win his eighth time-trial in a row, a streak which runs back to the Italian National Championships last August. Certainties do not exist in cycling, but if they did, Ganna will win the individual TT on stage two.
The climbs to Jebel Hafeet on stage three (10.6km @ 6.8%) and Jebel Jais on stage five (21.5km @ 5.4%) are the two queen stages in the UAE. Jebel Hafeet was ridden twice at last year’s race, where Adam Yates and Tadej Pogačar both won. It was Yates’ win on stage three which secured him the GC.
Stage five of the UAE Tour, which finishes atop Jebel Jais (via La Flamme Rouge)
The other four stages are flat as a pancake and will be contested in a mass-sprint. The only notable emission from the route is the wall of Hatta Dam.
The leading favourite here has to be Tadej Pogačar. At the team’s home race, the Tour de France champ will look to improve on his second place overall last season, where he was disappointed to lose to Adam Yates at his team’s home race. He will be helped by Davide Fomolo and Diego Ulissi, who returns after being diagnosed with myocarditis.
Adam Yates won the UAE Tour last year and debuts for the INEOS Grenadiers this time around. He is a one-week race specialist and could well be the opponent Pogačar fears most. As ever, the INEOS team is strong, with Filippo Ganna, Daniel Martínez and Tour de la Provence winner Iván Sosa starting. The time-trial will put-pay to Sosa’s GC chances here, though.
We will see João Almeida back in action for the first time after his stupendous performance at the Giro d’Italia, where he claimed the maglia rosa on stage three and held it until stage eighteen. The Portuguese is now a name to be reckoned with and starts as a genuine threat to win the UAE Tour.
Other GC protagonists include Rigoberto Urán, Emanuel Buchmann, Wout Poels, Alexey Lutsenko, Sepp Kuss and who knows, perhaps Chris Froome. The Brit is making his debut for Israel Start-Up as he aims to get back to his best with the Israeli outfit.
The race is well suited to the sprinters with four clear opportunities to win – this can be seen with the sprinters present in the UAE. Caleb Ewan, Sam Bennett, Pascal Ackermann and Giacomo Nizzolo are the headline names.
Fernando Gaviria had a down-year in 2020 and struggled at the Clásica de Almería earlier in 2021 – he will be desperate to get back to winning ways, and UAE-Team Emirates will be equally keen to wrack up the wins on home soil.
Another sprinter to look out for is Jasper Philipsen who starts alongside Mathieu van der Poel for Alpecin-Fenix. Philipsen will likely sprint for his new team – he won stage 15 at La Vuelta last season. It will be intriguing to see what role Van der Poel is to play for the rest of the race, having initially set out as lead-out man, while the GC is too difficult for him.
Alpecin-Fenix left the UAE Tour after the first stage due to a member of the team testing positive for COVID-19.
One final sprinter we will be keeping a keen eye on is Stefan Bissegger. The 22-year-old Swiss is talented in both time-trialling and sprinting. With no other sprinters in their line-up, EF Education-NIPPO will give him an opportunity after a good display at the Binckbank Tour last year.
Favourites: Tadej Pogačar, Adam Yates, João Almeida
Dark horses: Emanuel Buchmann, Sepp Kuss, Alejandro Valverde, Patrick Konrad, Jack Haig, Chris Froome
Cover image: Alex Broadway/ASO/SWpix.com