The inaugural edition of the women’s UAE Tour is going to give some of the best puncheurs and sprinters of the women's WorldTour peloton a chance to open up their win tallies early in 2023. With only one mountainous stage (stage three which finishes on the Jebel Hafeet climb), some of the most established climbers in the peloton, such as Annemiek van Vleuten (Movistar) and Demi Vollering (Team SD Worx), have opted not to enter the UAE Tour, giving way for some of the more explosive riders to have a shot at victory overall.
While it is likely that the general classification winner will be decided on Jebel Hafeet, there are also three sprint stages that the climbers need to get through safely on either side of that day. Here, there are risks of crosswinds, crashes, time bonuses and unexpected attacks, so taking GC victory is going to be no simple matter. For the sprinters, the women’s UAE Tour will give them their first real showdown of the 2023 season, meaning we will get to see if Lorena Wiebes has settled in well to her new outfit, Team SD Worx, or if Charlotte Kool will be able to take up the mantle as the world’s fastest sprinter for Team DSM.
Here are our picks of the key contenders for both the general classification and sprint victories in the 2023 Women’s UAE Tour.
German national champion Liane Lippert has already had a stellar start to her debut season with Movistar, finishing second in the one-day Vuelta CV Feminas race a few days ago behind her teammate Floortje Mackaij. This proves that the 25-year-old has had a solid winter of training and is already on a high level despite it being so early in the season. Lippert is well-suited to the Jebel Hafeet climb, excelling in punchy efforts and often performing well in Ardennes Classic-style races. She told Rouleur a few weeks ago that she believes she has also improved recently on long, steady climbs too, so we can expect to see Lippert at the forefront of the race when the road goes up. Thanks to her familiarity and love for the Classics, Lippert will also be comfortable if crosswinds cause havoc on some of the flat stages and risk breaking up the peloton – she’s performed well in conditions like this in Belgium before.
Liane Lippert at the 2022 World Road Race Championships in Wollongong (Image: Alex Whitehead/SWpix)
One thing that could let Lippert down is the team surrounding her. Despite having world champion Annemiek van Vleuten in their roster, Movistar has chosen not to bring the Dutch rider to this race. Instead, they have opted for a more sprint focussed team which we expect to be supporting Danish rider Emma Norsgaard in the flat stages. This could mean that Lippert may find herself isolated on the Jebel Hafeet climb and vulnerable to attacks, so it will be interesting to see how she handles this sort of pressure. It’s also likely that the German rider will find herself needing to contribute to leadout duties on the flat stages, so this could cause some fatigue in the days leading up to the Jebel Hafeet climb.
The experienced Trek-Segafredo rider, Elisa Longo-Borghini, will open her 2023 race campaign with the UAE Tour, having not raced so far this season. This means we are unsure what kind of shape the former Italian champion will be in, but her palmarès over the years are a warning sign to all of her rivals that Longo-Borghini is a rider to watch in this race. The 31-year-old is a formidable climber, finishing inside the top-six at both the Tour de France Femmes and the Giro d’Italia Donne overall last season. But what makes Longo-Borghini such a special – and dangerous – rider is her versatility. While she can perform well on long, mountainous climbs, the Italian also won Paris-Roubaix Femmes last year, a sign that she can tackle the flat races too. A former winner of the Tour of Flanders and Strade Bianche, there is little terrain that Longo-Borghini doesn’t excel on.
As well as her incredible physical ability, Longo-Borghini could also have the upper hand on her rivals in this race thanks to over a decade of experience in the peloton. In a display of tactical brilliance, the Italian rider narrowly won the Women’s Tour in the UK last year after clinching time bonuses and finishing third in a bunch sprint on the final stage. With the lack of climbing in the UAE Tour, it could be that the general classification is very close to call, and if it comes down to time bonuses, Longo-Borghini will know how to handle this.
Another rider beginning their season with the UAE Tour is Marta Cavalli of FDJ-Suez. After a horror crash on stage two of the Tour de France Femmes last year, Cavalli’s 2022 season was curtailed due to the injuries she sustained, but we can expect the Italian rider to be back fighting fit for 2023. Cavalli showed with her incredible victories at the Amstel Gold Race and Flèche Wallonne earlier in 2022 how much talent she has for punchy climbs and that she has the quality to beat the best riders in the world. The FDJ-Suez rider also finished second at the Giro d’Italia Donne last year behind Annemiek van Vleuten, proving that she is at home on mountainous terrain too. The Jebel Hafeet climb will serve as the perfect springboard for Cavalli to launch one of her trademark attacks if she has the legs to do it, but it’s hard to ascertain her form given that she is yet to race so far this season.
Marta Cavalli winning Flèche Wallonne 2022 (Image: Getty)
However, one aspect that will play hugely into the hands of Cavalli is the number of cards that FDJ-Suez have. Grace Brown has already been racing in Australia this year, taking an impressive victory in the Tour Down Under just a few weeks ago. She serves as another great option for the French squad at the UAE Tour, taking the pressure off Cavalli to be the main GC leader for the team. The Jebel Hafeet climb might be too long for Brown, who generally prefers shorter, punchier climbs, but it will be down to the other teams to make the ascent hard enough to drop the Australian who is known for her strong sprint and late, perfectly-timed attacks.
After a tumultuous off-season that was shaped by the dramatic closure of Team B&B Hotels – the squad which the French rider was due to be riding for in 2023 – Audrey Cordon-Ragot has returned to the peloton with Zaaf Cycling Team in impressive form. The 33-year-old appears to have put the drama of 2022 behind her successfully, finishing inside the top-six in both races she has competed in so far this season. In the Pro Costa De Almería, Cordon-Ragot finished in third place and she secured sixth in the Vuelta CV Feminas a few weeks later. The French rider had a great season in 2022, winning both the French National Road Race and Individual Time Trial National Championships, and taking her first ever Women’s WorldTour win at the Postnord Vårgårda WestSweden RR.
Cordon-Ragot isn’t a pure climber and is best suited to flat or punchy races. However, if riders who are stronger in the mountains choose to ride the Jebel Hafeet climb cagily, Cordon-Ragot could hang on, as well as perform well in the sprint stages earlier in the race. While she’s unlikely to win a bunch kick, the Zaaf Cycling rider regularly makes well-timed, opportunistic attacks and could sneak away from the peloton if she times things correctly. Cordon-Ragot hasn’t got the strongest team around her with Zaaf being a squad which is newer to the peloton, but the way the French team has opened their season shows that they can punch above their weight.
On the day that Audrey Cordon-Ragot took victory in the Postnord Vårgårda WestSweden RR, close behind her was the British rider for Team DSM, Pfeiffer Georgi. The 22-year-old has risen steadily to the top of women’s professional cycling ever since she won the British National Championships in 2021. She has developed into one of Team DSM’s biggest hopes for the Classics, but has also been known to perform well on climbs and in shorter stage races. Speaking to Rouleur a few weeks ago, Georgi explained that she has most recently been given more of a leadership role for the 2023 season at Team DSM, and we expect that the UAE Tour will be her first opportunity to prove herself under this sort of pressure.
While Georgi isn’t the strongest pure climber in the race, she is extremely tactically astute and will also relish any attacks in windy and tough conditions. Team DSM are known for their exemplary organisation in the lead out and we can expect them to mirror this on the stage to Jebel Hafeet, protecting and setting up Georgi well to be in the best position to hang on as long as she can on the climb. However, Team DSM also comes to the UAE Tour Charlotte Kool who will have big sprint ambitions, so Georgi will be an integral part of helping out Kool in the flatter stages. This could hinder her freedom to go for opportunistic attacks before the sprint, so we will have to wait and see where Team DSM’s priorities lie.
Canyon//SRAM Racing’s protected GC rider will likely be their Dutch climber Pauliena Rooijakkers. The 29-year-old always excels when the road goes up, taking the win in the hilly Spanish one-day race, Durango-Durango Emakumeen Saria last year, as well as third on the GC in the Itzulia Women stage race, where some of the best climbers in the world were present. Rooijakkers will have her sights set on the Jebel Hafeet climb as the place where she can make the most difference to her general classification position, but she will need to ensure that she can get through the technical sprint finishes that come before that, an area where she has struggled in the past.
If Rooijakkers isn’t in her best form, Canyon//SRAM also have a great option with Elise Chabbey. The Swiss rider is never afraid to shake races up, known for her attacking style. While Jebel Hafeet might be too difficult for Chabbey, she will be an asset to her team-mates in the earlier stages of the cimb, as will Australian rider Tiffany Cromwell, an experienced domestique. The UAE Tour will also serve as one of the first races in which Magnus Bäckstedt will be a sports director for Canyon//SRAM, so it will be interesting to see if his influence can help the team to the top step of the podium.
Although she might not be one of the most famous names on the startlist, Kristen Faulkner of Team Jayco-Alula has had an incredible career in cycling so far, despite only joining the Women’s WorldTour in 2020. Faulkner has stage wins in the Giro d’Italia, Tour of Scandinavia and the Tour de Suisse, many of which she achieved on climbs similar to that of Jebel Hafeet which she will race on in the UAE Tour. In fact, the American rider was close to taking victory overall at the Tour de Suisse before she had an unfortunate crash on the final stage, proving that she can be well-suited to shorter stage races.
Kristen Faulkner at the 2022 Tour de France Femmes (Image: Getty)
One thing that has hindered Faulkner from performing in the past is how regularly she finds herself crashing, perhaps because of her freshness in the peloton. It will be interesting to see if Faulker has worked on her technical abilities over the winter, but the terrain in the UAE should suit the Team Jayco-Alula rider with the number of wide, flat roads that she will be racing on. Taking victory overall in the UAE Tour would undoubtedly be the biggest result of Faulkner’s career, but the 30-year-old has regularly surprised people and exceeded expectations, so she is a rider to keep an eye on in this race.
Sprinters to watch in the women's UAE Tour
The stages of the women’s UAE Tour are far more weighted to the sprinters than climbers, so we can expect the spotlight to be on some of the fastest riders in the peloton in the opening two stages and on the final stage of the race. It will be one of the first opportunities of the season for some of the sprint stars to go head to head, and the standout name to watch is Lorena Wiebes of Team SD Worx. The Dutch rider hardly needs an introduction, she has 59 professional victories and is widely regarded as the fastest sprinter in the peloton. However, in 2023, she will be riding in new colours with Team SD Worx and an entirely different lead out train; the UAE Tour will be the first opportunity to see how this is working out for Wiebes.
Lorena Wiebes at the 2022 Women's Tour (Image: Sarah Abbott/Sweetspot via SWpix)
The Dutch rider moving to Team SD Worx has given way for Charlotte Kool to become the main sprinter for Team DSM. After leading out Wiebes for the majority of last season, the younger rider now has her chance to go against the European champion for the first time. Could it be that after a season of working closely alongside Wiebes, Kool will now supersede her?
Chiara Consonni and Marta Bastianelli of UAE Team ADQ are another two extremely fast riders who will be eyeing up the bunch sprints, as will Alice Barnes of Team Human Powered Health. Emma Norsgaard of Movistar is another important rider to watch in the bunch sprints; the Danish rider will be hoping to get back to her best with Movistar in 2023. From Team Jayco Alula Georgia Baker will also be very prominent in the mix for stage victories.
We’re backing Liane Lippert to take victory in the 2023 Women’s UAE Tour. The German rider will want to impress in only her second race for Movistar, and can handle the gradients of Jebel Hafeet as well as the potential chaos and crosswinds that could come in the flatter stages of the race.