Mark Cavendish will race alongside Mark Renshaw for the first time in Omega Pharma-QuickStep colours when the inaugural Dubai Tour rolls out tomorrow (Wednesday February 5).
With a flat course awaiting in the emirate, the Belgian team are joined by Giant-Shimano and Cannondale in sending heavyweight sprint teams for the first of three stage races in the Middle East this month.
Cavendish, who started his season playing lead-out for Tom Boonen at the Tour de San Luis, will also be backed by Italian sprinting legend Alessandro Petacchi, who has recovered from the illness which saw him abandon the Argentinean race.
And team director Brian Holm is excited by the prospect of such a star-studded sprinting line-up coming together for Omega Pharma-QuickStep.
“For Mark, he will have his first chance to rely on both Alessandro Petacchi and Mark Renshaw in his leadout train,” said Holm.
“Cav and Renshaw have a lot of history and, combined with a veteran like Peta, we’re hoping to have a fair chance for success in a race with so many sprint opportunities.”
Renshaw signed for Omega Pharma-QuickStep this winter, to be reunited with Cavendish for the first time since their HTC-Highroad team disbanded.
Renshaw raced alongside Scotland’s Andrew Fenn at the Tour Down Under last month, where they finished second and third respectively in the final stage, while Cavendish was in San Luis.
However the two Marks will now begin preparations for a season which they hope will bring Cavendish the Tour de France yellow jersey in Harrogate in July.
Their first test will be to see off the challenges of Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale), with the two also backed by experienced sprint trains in Dubai.
Kittel is to be supported by Tom Veelers and Koen de Kort, while Sagan – who is preparing for an assault on the cobbled Classics next month – has the backing of Maciej Bodnar and Fabio Sabatini.
The Dubai Tour kicks off with a prologue before three sprint-friendly stages along almost pan-flat routes.
It means Cavendish’s team-mate Tony Martin, the world time trial champion, is among the favourites to take the overall prize.
And the German arrives in the United Arab Emirates having previously visited for a race of a very different kind.
Holm explained: “As for Tony, he had a special experience last year when he actually competed against a horse in an exhibition, which was a really nice introduction of cycling to Dubai.
“Now he can come back and also show Dubai how strong he is against other riders. This will be his first chance to time trial since wrapping up an incredible 2013, which included his third straight UCI World ITT Championship.
“I am sure he is really focused and wants to take that momentum into his debut in Dubai, even if the first stage is a prologue. He is ready and it will be close. Overall the team is happy to go there, as we can be competitive in every situation.”
The Dubai Tour starts tomorrow (Wednesday February 5) with live coverage on Eurosport every day from 10am and regular highlights throughout the day. See the full television schedule here.