Kittel and Cavendish head Dubai Tour field

The annual Dubai Tour returns to the UAE this week for its fourth edition and, this year, it’s longer than ever before, as Will Jones reports

After a well-earned winter break, the world’s best road cyclists are once more starting to grind through the gears. The 2017 season got under way a couple of weeks ago – and this week, the eyes of the cycling world will be on the UAE for the fourth running of the Dubai Tour.

Early-season races can prove a good guide to the year ahead, but that hasn’t always been the case in Dubai. Three months after winning the first Dubai Tour in 2014, American time trial specialist Taylor Phinney suffered a career-threatening crash that kept him out of action for a year. Then two years later, 2016 winner Marcel Kittel went on to endure a mixed season, winning two stages in the Giro d’Italia but taking just one stage victory in the Tour de France – while Britain’s Mark Cavendish, his fierce rival and the winner of the 2015 Dubai Tour, won four times as many.

Cavendish and Kittel are back in Dubai this week, and are among the favourites in what should be a tour for the sprinters. Cavendish will lead a Team Dimension Data squad that also includes trusted leadout man Mark Renshaw and able lieutenant Bernie Eisel, while German sprinter Kittel will be relying on a pair of Italian team-mates, Matteo Trentin and Fabio Sabatini, to deliver him to the line.

While Kittel and Cavendish are the main attractions, they may not have it all their own way. Spain’s Juan José Lobato will be hoping to emulate his 2016 performance, when he powered to the summit finish at Hatta Dam for a very impressive stage 3 victory. Classics specialist John Degenkolb will want to make a mark in his first race with the Trek-Segafredo team. And versatile Italian Elia Viviani, who beat Cavendish to Olympic omnium gold last year, will lead a Team Sky squad that features a couple of hotly tipped young Britons: Jon Dibben and Tao Geoghegan Hart, respectively 22 and 21 years old.

The Dubai Tour has been extended this year to five days, with each stage starting from the Dubai International Marine Club. The 172km penultimate stage finishes with a testing climb up to Hatta Dam – but otherwise, you can expect a lot of fast and furious finishes, which should suit Cavendish and Kittel just fine. Who’ll come out on top?

The Dubai Tour takes place from 31 January to 4 February. For full details, visit their website