The United Arab Emirates’ peculiar interest in professional cycling shows no sign of slowing down, with this year’s UAE Tour – which is itself a sort of merger of the various races that were organised in the country over the last eight years – beginning to look more and more like a credible target on the WorldTour calendar.
The 2021 UAE Tour also represents a kind of return to ‘ground zero’, in so far as it was the first race of 2020 to be majorly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Who can forget the weeks-long quarantine of many of the participating teams and the ensuing social media content of various riders trying to maintain race fitness using only items they found in their hotels? As the world begins to recover from the pandemic, the UAE Tour can – if successfully run – set down a blueprint for safe WorldTour racing in 2021.
UAE Tour
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When is the 2021 UAE Tour?

The UCI World Tour begins with the UAE Tour, a seven-day stage race offering something for both the climbers and the sprinters to get excited about. It runs from February 21-27.
Without the customary season start at the Tour Down Under, it will be a fascinating opportunity to understand the levels of some of the season’s likely protagonists.

How to watch the race

The UAE Tour is live on Eurosport. Watch the race live and ad-free on the Eurosport app and You can download the Eurosport app for iOS and Android now.

A stellar field featuring Pogačar, Yates and Froome

The big name that really matters, both to fans and to the organisers of the UAE Tour, is Tadej Pogačar. He’s riding for the state-sponsored team in its home race, and brings the weight of yellow jersey expectations in on his shoulders. Anything less than a win will be seen as a disappointment for the young Slovenian, who – if he does take the GC – will also bag the white jersey for best young rider.
Adam Yates arrives as the defending champion, having taken victory in the abbreviated 2020 edition. He will be hoping to start his new life at Ineos Grenadiers off with a bang. His teammate Filippo Ganna will also be involved and he’s clearly been going very well from what we saw at Étoile de Bessèges. The TT is the Italian's to lose.

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It would be churlish not to mention Chris Froome (Israel StartUp Nation), but he is building back to his full strength after a lengthy and chaotic period of either injury or heavily interrupted racing. He tends to take a little while to build into his season and places high value on focusing on a single event, Le Tour, almost to the exclusion of results in other races. It would be surprising to see him going full gas here.
Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) will look to get amongst it in the GC, having come third in 2020, while Sep Kuss is – intriguingly – down on the start list as the most likely leader of Jumbo-Visma. After watching the American work so impressively in the service of others last year, it is a tantalising prospect to see him go for a win himself.
With so many sprint stages, it’s no surprise to see a glittering lineup of fastmen slated to start the UAE Tour. Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) has enjoyed a lot of success here in previous years, although historically he would have been building on a good block of aussie racing coming into this event. Ewan will be starting ‘cold’, as will most of the race’s main sprinters.

Ewan powers to Stage 2 win and overall lead in UAE

Tour de France green jersey, Sam Bennett, lines up to lead Deceuninck – Quick-Step, while Pascal Ackermann from Bennett’s old team, Bora Hansgrohe, will also be in the mix for those fast finales.
Carrying the flag on the flat for the ‘home team’ is Fernando Gaviria, the Colombian sprinter who contracted coronavirus during the 2020 UAE Tour. Gaviria has done well in the gulf, with two victories in Dubai finishes to his name.
Giacomo Nizzolo and Elia Viviani round out the major sprinting talents, with Nizzolo bringing the most racing days into the UAE Tour of any of the main riders, after participations in Étoile de Bessèges and Tour de Almeria already.

The stages

  • 21.02: Stage 1, Al Yash - Al Mirfa (177km)
  • 22.02: Stage 2, Al Hudyriat Island - Al Hudyriat Island (13km ITT)
  • 23.02: Stage 3, Al Ain – Jebel Hafeet (162km)
  • 24.02: Stage 4, Al Marjan Island – Al Marjan Island (204km)
  • 25.02: Stage 5, Fujairah – Jebel Jais (170km)
  • 26.02: Stage 6: Dubai – Palm Jumeirah (168km)
  • 27.02: Stage 7: Yas Island – Abu Dhabi (147km)
The first day’s racing is sure to be a sprint finish, with most of the field looking to get off the mark with a big W. A great opportunity to see who will be in the mix for the points jersey.
The second stage is an individual time trial, and in a year where the Tour de France looks like being decided by TTs, it’s never too soon to put down a marker. Filippo Ganna is favourite for the stage, but the riders pursuing GC will also have to dig deep.
Stage 3 finishes on Jebel Hafeet, a ten-kilometre climb that will shake out the sprinters and pave the way for a GC showdown. Past winners on the mountain include Adam Yates and Tadej Pogačar.
The UAE Tour’s fourth stage is another flat finale and also the lengthiest stage of the whole race at 204km. It’ll be punishing stuff for the peloton, so don’t expect many volunteers for the breakaway.
Stage 5 sees the race head for the climb of Jebel Jais, where Primož Roglic won on his way to overall victory in 2019. This represents the Queen Stage of the race, but we may not get a finish contested by the GC favourites. It will depend mostly on the race situation, and if any key mountain domestiques have lost their leaders by this point we will almost certainly see them in the breakaway.

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Stage 6 is a real sop to the Dubai tourist board, with the peloton heading onto a custom-built bike path through the desert, before finishing on the emirate’s emblematic Palm Jumeirah. It is perhaps the finish most associated with races in the Gulf, and will be a certain sprint.
The seventh and final stage is another sprint, this time in Abu Dhabi. A last chance to secure one of very few ‘pure’ sprint wins in the first half of this 2021 WorldTour season.
UAE Tour
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UAE Tour
Pogacar wins UAE Tour as Ewan takes final stage
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