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Desert storm: previews of the Tours of Dubai, Qatar and Oman

Pro cycling's elite head to the Middle East as 2014 season hots up

Wednesday February 5 to Saturday February 8

The race

Founded by RCS Sport, the organisation behind the Giro d’Italia, the inaugural Dubai Tour kicks off the month as the oil-rich Emirate gets its first slice of the WorldTour peloton. Although an unknown quantity, the race has attracted a strong field of riders with world champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) racing in the rainbow stripes for the first time this season.

The four-stage Tour features an almost entirely pan-flat parcours, starting with a 10km individual time trial on the Wednesday. A 122km stage follows, taking in the premier sports venues of the emirate before a sprint finish is expected on the iconic man-made Palm Island. The third stage meanwhile is the longest of the Tour at 162km and also represents the queen stage in that it is the only stage to feature climbs of any note with summits at 495m and 417m. The generous climbs should not trouble the fast-men however, and unless a break manages to stay clear it appears set for another sprint finish in Hatta. Finally the Tour concludes with a street circuit under the shadow of the giant Burj Khalifa sky scraper.

The contenders

Although 2013 world number one rider Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), defending Giro champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and world champion Costa are due on the start line in Dubai, the flat course means none are likely to feature at the sharp end of the GC. The race, for the former two at least, will be more about acclimatising ahead of the Tour of Oman and gaining an early form-finder against the clock in stage one.

Opening with a 10km time trial, world time trial champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) will no doubt fancy his chances of gaining an unsurpassable lead from the stage as he did in the inaugural Tour of Beijing in 2011. However, with Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) – a proven master of the short time trials – and British time trial champion Alex Dowsett (Movistar) also on the start line, the German faces stiff competition. A high-class sprinting line-up is also due in Dubai with Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quickstep), Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale) leading the way. It is the first meeting of Cavendish and Kittel this season, with Kittel keen to make amends for a disappointing Tour Down Under. The red sprints jersey is likely to be hotly-contested between the Manxman and his German rival, although whether they are also able to compete for the overall prize and the stylish accompanying ‘Circle of Stars’ Dubai Tour trophy will depend on them not losing too much time in stage one.

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