Abu Dhabi Tour on the road again

Some of the world’s best road cyclists will be in the UAE this week for the second edition of the Abu Dhabi Tour. Will Joneslooks at the stellar field and tries to pick a winner

Fresh from this weekend’s thrilling Road World Championships in Qatar, the men’s road cycling caravan this week rolls into the UAE. Staged for the first time in 2015, the Abu Dhabi Tour has quickly cemented its place on the cycling calendar: the line-up for this year’s four-day stage race, which gets under way on 20 October, contains some of the world’s best racers.

Three of the tour’s four stages will favour sprinters such as Mark Cavendish and André Greipel. You can expect to see them battling for supremacy on stage one, starting and ending in Madinat Zayed; stage two, ending at Al Marina; and Sunday’s closing stage four, on Yas Island. But the overall winner of the race will probably be the rider who takes stage three, which ends with an 11km climb to a summit finish at Jebel Hafeet. Here are five riders to watch this week.

Mark Cavendish (GBR; Team Dimension Data)

By Cavendish’s incredibly high standards, 2014 and 2015 weren’t years to remember, but 2016 has been another story. The ‘Manx Missile’ has enjoyed a stellar season – following victory in February’s Tour of Qatar, Cavendish took a stunning quartet of stage wins and wore the yellow jersey in the Tour de France, then won Olympic silver on the track (behind Elia Viviani, also racing this week). Cavendish finished second behind Peter Sagan in the Road World Championships on Sunday, but he’ll be looking to make amends with at least one stage win this week.

André Greipel (GER; Lotto-Soudal)

The ‘Gorilla’ resumes his ding-dong sprint rivalry with Cavendish this week – and will be looking for a measure of revenge. After Greipel got the better of Cavendish in last year’s Tour de France, Cavendish got his own back this summer; Greipel’s only stage win came in the finale on the Champs-Élysées, after Cavendish had left the race. He’ll want to end the season on a high – but will he get the better of his long-time nemesis?

Vincenzo Nibali (ITA; Astana)

Only six cyclists in the history of the sport have won all three Grand Tours – the Giro d’Italia, the Vuelta a España and the Tour de France. Two of the six are competing in Abu Dhabi, and one of them is Vincenzo Nibali. The season hasn’t gone entirely to plan for the fearless Sicilian – he faded in the mountains during the Tour de France, then broke his collarbone when he crashed out of the Olympic road race. But winning his fourth Grand Tour in his home country, as Nibali did in May, is ample compensation.

Greg van Avermaet (BEL; BMC Racing Team)

This has been a career-defining season for the Belgian: victory in the prestigious Tirreno-Adriatico, a breakaway stage win and three days in the yellow jersey at the Tour de France, and then gold in the wild Olympic road race. His style could play very well in stage three, which ends atop Jabel Hafeet and will probably decide the general classification.

Alberto Contador (ESP; Tinkoff)

Like Nibali, Alberto Contador has won the general classification in all three Grand Tours – and with seven Grand Tour titles among his palmares, he’s a genuine legend of the sport. His career hasn’t been without blemishes, most notably a doping conviction that stripped him of two further Grand Tour wins, but he continues to compete at a high level, and recently announced that he’s postponing his planned retirement to ride in 2017.

The Abu Dhabi Tour takes place from 20-23 October. For details, see www.abudhabitour.com