Abu Dhabi Tour 2017 preview: Mark Cavendish vs Marcel Kittel, part two

Sprinters and GC men back in UAE as WorldTour action returns

UCI WorldTour action returns this week, with both the sprinters and GC men looking to score some early points over their rivals at the Abu Dhabi Tour, which starts on Thursday (February 23).

Mark Cavendish will bid for his victories of the 2017 season against a stellar sprinting field which includes Dubai Tour winner Marcel Kittel, German champion Andre Greipel and rising star Caleb Ewan.

Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel will resume their rivalry at the Abu Dhabi Tour (pic – ANSA/RCS Sport)

And the GC men will then go wheel-to-wheel on the third of the race’s four stages, with victory atop Jebel Hafeet – the undulating Al Ain climb with an average gradient of eight per cent – almost certain guarantee overall success.

Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Fabio Aru (Astana) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) are all among the leading climbers tempted to the United Arab Emirates.

With Eurosport broadcasting live from every stage, we’ve taken a closer look at the riders to look out for.

Sprinting showdown

There is little question who took home the sprinting honours from the UAE’s other major stage race – with Marcel Kittel (QuickStep Floors) winning three stages and the overall title at the Dubai Tour.

With the Dubai Tour not part of the WorldTour, however, his rivals – including Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) – have a chance to hit back in Abu Dhabi, and score some valuable WorldTour points in the process.

Marcel Kittel was the man to beat at the Dubai Tour (pic – Ansa-RCS Sport)

Kittel’s sprint train fired to perfection in Dubai, while mechanical misfortune beset Cavendish – a late puncture and a rear derailleur problem hampering two of his sprints.

The Manx Missile will be supported, again, by Bernie Eisel, Reinardt Janse van Rensburg and Mark Renshaw in Abu Dhabi though as he looks to match or improve the two stage wins he bagged on the Emirate in late 2016.

Kittel and Cavendish are not the only leading sprinters set for the Abu Dhabi Tour startline, however, with German champion Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) looking to add to the wins in Mallorca and the Algarve he has already earned this year.

Caleb Ewan has four UCI WorldTour stage wins to his name already this season after a stunning start to the season at the Tour Down Under (pic – Sirotti)

Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott), winner of four of the six stages of the Santos Tour Down Under, is also in contention, with the 22-year-old looking to prove himself outside of his home country.

Elsewhere, Elia Viviani (Team Sky) – winner of two stages in Abu Dhabi in 2015 – Ben Swift (UAE Team Emirates) and Riccardo Minali (Astana), the 21-year-old who impressed at the Dubai Tour, should be in the shake-up for stage honours too.

Jebel Hafeet

Three of the race’s four stages are flat and are unlikely to end in anything other than a bunch gallop, providing the sprint teams shut down any breakaways.

Stage three, however, will decide the general classification with a summit finish on Jebel Hafeet.

An average gradient of eight per cent and a maximum pitch of 11 per cent mean the undulating nine-kilometre climb will offer the perfect platform for a showdown between the likes of Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar).

The summit finish of Jebel Hafeet will decide the overall winner of the 2017 Abu Dhabi Tour (pic: ANSA/RCS Sport)

It is Astana’s Tanel Kangert who rolls out in dossard number one, after victory on the mountain last year, and he and team-mate Fabio Aru will be among the men to watch.

Contador races on the back of narrowly missing out on victory at the Ruta del Sol on his Trek-Segafredo debut – losing out to Alejandro Valverde by a solitary second – while Quintana was victorious in his last outing, at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana.

Alberto Contador trains at Yas Marina ahead of the Abu Dhabi Tour (pic – ANSA/RCS Sport)

Giro d’Italia champion Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Tour de France runner-up Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) will also be on the startline, while the nature of the course – with just one crucial climb – means Rafal Majka (Bora-hansgrohe) should not be written off.

BMC Racing’s Tejay van Garderen starts his season with the race, meanwhile – the American has a big point to prove this season after being way off the pace at the 2016 Tour de France.

Another man with a point to prove, meanwhile, is Steven Kruijswijk – the Dutchman having been set to win the Giro d’Italia when he crashed and ultimately fell to fourth overall.

Brits on board

British cycling fans keen to follow the action on Eurosport have more than just Cavendish and Swift to keep an eye on, with several British and Irish riders on the startline.

The Manxman seems the best bet for a stage win, but you can expect to see plenty of national time trial champion Alex Dowsett as he looks to set the pace for Movistar team-mate Quintana on stage three.

Owain Doull will make his Team Sky debut at the second time of asking (pic – Sirotti)

Owain Doull makes his second attempt to make his Team Sky debut, meanwhile, after having had his appendix removed while in Australia for the Tour Down Under.

The Welshman is one of four Brits in the Team Sky line-up, alongside Jon Dibben, Tao Geoghegan Hart and Peter Kennaugh.

Irish champion Nicolas Roche will roll out in the green, white and gold jersey for BMC Racing, and finally Stephen Clancy (Team Novo Nordisk) rides at WorldTour level for just the second time in his career.

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