Mark Cavendish to start season with Dubai Tour 2017 sprinting showdown against Marcel Kittel
National champion Adam Blythe also among 14 British riders set for Dubai startline
Mark Cavendish starts his 2017 season at the Dubai Tour on Tuesday (January 31), where he will battle for early sprinting supremacy against Marcel Kittel.
Cavendish is one of 14 British riders set for the Dubai startline, returning to the United Arab Emirates having closed out his 2016 season with two victories in Abu Dhabi.
And with the Abu Dhabi Tour next on the cards – where valuable WorldTour points will be up for grabs – the expanded Dubai Tour offers the sprinters a great chance to find some early form.
Dubai Tour winners
2014 – Taylor Phinney 2015 – Mark Cavendish 2016 – Marcel Kittel
Cavendish will be joined in Dubai – at the race he won overall in 2015 – by new British team-mate Scott Thwaites, along with three key cogs of his lead-out train in Mark Renshaw, Reinardt Janse van Rensburg and Bernie Eisel.
Kittel will start as defending champion, meanwhile, having kicked off his QuickStep career by winning two stages and the overall title in Dubai last year.
This year’s race will feature five stages, as opposed to just four, though it retains the same sprint-friendly character as the last two editions.
Save for coastal crosswinds, the fast men should have the chance to go wheel-to-wheel on Palm Jumeirah on stage one and Ras al Khaimah on stage two.
While stage three features a short climb halfway through it should not be enough to foil the sprinters, though stage four’s summit finish on Hatta Dam – with a gradient of 17 per cent towards the summit – will suit the rouleurs better.
Finally, the pan-flat Dubai City circuit completes a race which should come down to bonus seconds clocked at the finish line and at the two intermediate sprints each day.
Kittel is not the only rival Cavendish will be facing either, with Olympic omnium champion Elia Viviani (Team Sky) resuming hostilities with the Manxman – providing he has got over the abdominal pains which forced his early abandoning of the Vuelta a San Juan.
Viviani’s team-mates will include British neo-pros Tao Geoghegan Hart and Jon Dibben, while another Brit – national champion Adam Blythe (Aqua Blue Sport) could also feature in the bunch sprints.
Blythe will pull on the blue, white and red striped jersey for his first race since joining the new Irish UCI ProContinental team, and will do so alongside three other Brits in Mark Christian, Andrew Fenn and Dan Pearson and Liverpool-born Irish rider Matt Brammeier.
Alex Dowsett is pencilled in to race for Movistar, meanwhile, and ONE Pro Cycling’s inclusion for what could be their highest-profile international race of the year means five more British riders in action.
Kristian House, Joshua Hunt, Tom Stewart, Peter Williams and Sam Williams all line up for the UCI Continental team, who race for the first time since taking out the team classification at the Abu Dhabi Tour – their final race at UCI ProContinental level.
It is Cavendish who will garner the most interest, however, with British fans able to watch every stage live on Eurosport.
Most Dubai Tour stage wins
5 – Marcel Kittel 2 – Mark Cavendish, Elia Viviani 1 – John Degenkolb, Juan Jose Lobato, Taylor Phinney
Though John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) and Juan Jose Lobato (Team LottoNL-Jumbo), who will both ride with their new teams for the first time, have both won on Hatta Dam in the past, the addition of a fourth flat stage means it will be the rider who can clock the most stage wins (and therefore bonus seconds) who should win overall.
Kittel’s two victories in 2016 took his overall tally in the race to five stage wins – more than any other rider in its three-year history, while Cavendish and Viviani have both won twice apiece.
Rising sprint star Dylan Groenewegen will also be in action for LottoNL-Jumbo, while Blythe has insisted podium finishes are Aqua Blue Sport’s ultimate goal for the season.
Cavendish and Kittel remain the fastest sprinters in the bunch on their day, however, and the Dubai Tour will offer a great chance to see who is in the better form as they head for their first WorldTour showdown of the season at the Abu Dhabi Tour later in February.
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