A few years ago I decided I was going to have a crack at the full cycling calendar. This isn’t to say I wasn’t already a pro cycling super-fan, but it meant making a transition away from UCI flagship events and towards Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah. Unfortauntely, Dubai suffers from being very dull in terms of cycling parcours and everything about the race screams ‘bunch sprint’. Nevertheless, here are five potentially exciting things that could happen at this week’s Dubai Tour.
A free-for-all on the Hatta Dam
The Hatta Dam is the most interesting obstacle to emerge from the sand and the road is whipped up to 17% gradient in no time at all. It’s a finish that would be perfect for the stars of the Ardennes; if only they bothered to travel to Dubai.
With an absence of specialists, we are often treated to the majority of the sprinters – and pretty much anybody with any energy left – heaving their bikes towards the line in a frantic uphill struggle. The race leader will likely have a few seconds to play with and is often found puffing up to the finish line in a desperate defence of his jersey. It’s a brilliant little finish and was sorely missed last year when high winds caused a stage cancellation.
Sonny Colbrelli’s my early pick for Hatta success with the likes of John Degenkolb likely to join the charge. Magnus Cort Nielsen, Dylan Teuns and Jean-Pierre Drucker could also go well on their seasonal debuts.
Sprinters exchange victories
Everybody in Dubai wants a sprint. Any teams arriving without a sprinter should prepare to suffer. The natural and happy balance between peloton and breakaway ceases to exist in Dubai; there are simply too many sprinters. Despite the sheer quantity of fastmen to touch down in the resort over the last four years, the thirteen flat bunch sprints have been shared between just four riders (Kittel, Cavendish, Viviani and Degenkolb).
Kittel has been known to dominate but that might not be the case this year. After realising he was terrible in Australia, Kittel now chooses to start his season in Dubai. This was clearly not an issue in 2017 but this time the big German arrives with his new shampoo pals from Katusha.
He’ll be viewed as beatable by the likes of Elia Viviani, Dylan Groenewegen, Alexander Kristoff and even Mark Cavendish on his return from the track. We saw Caleb Ewan struggle in a similar situation at the Tour Down Under where his expected domination never materialized. There’s no standout sprinter at this time of the season and they’ll have to learn to share.
Cavendish vs. Kittel
Speaking of Cavendish… if he’s carrying form, if he’s interested, and if Dimension Data get it right, there’s no reason why he can’t rule over Dubai once more. He’s blown increasingly hot and cold over the last few years but tends to raise his game when given an opportunity to remind Kittel why he’s won thirty Tour de France stages. The big engines at Dimension Data clearly have faith in him.
Despite Kittel’s superior record over the last few years, he won’t want Cavendish on his shoulder with 150m to go.
Somebody causes a shock (probably an Italian)
The Stage 1 result should read something like Kittel/Viviani/Groenewegen. But it probably won’t.
The race is packed with hungry young sprinters and Riccardo Minali, Jakub Mareczko and Simone Consonni will all be looking for an upset. It was at the Dubai Tour last year that Minali emerged as a name and he raced to a close third on the final stage.
However, the pick of the Italians has to be Mareczko. He’s sometimes laughed at and easy to dismiss as a threat but there’s no hiding the fact I’m a massive fan. It is comical how often he wins outside of Europe (and particularly in China) but there’s no reason why he won’t challenge this week. He’s got to be one of the fastest riders earning a keep at Pro Continental level and I reckon he takes at least one podium.
Someone wins solo
Okay we’re entering fantasy land now but perhaps we’ll finally see a solo victor on a Dubai stage. It’s difficult to pick out a team who would encourage one of their riders to jump off the front but that makes the possibility all the more fascinating. There’s nothing to act as a launch pad but boredom could force somebody to catch the peloton off guard.
I can barely even envisage what a successful solo attack would look like but I’d love it if Filippo Ganna emerged from a tunnel with a 20 second advantage.