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Speaking one day before the start of the 2015 Dubai Tour, five of the top riders in the lineup have outlined their goals for the early season event.
Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali is seeking to clock up his first win since taking his yellow jersey on to the Champs Elysees last July, and while he admits not being certain where his form is at, he feels it’s possible he could contend,
“It’s important for me to be here,” he said, speaking about his season debut. “We have two good sprinters in [Lars] Boom and [Andrea] Guardini.
“It’s the first race of the season for me. There is one hard uphill finish, where I’ll find out how well I’ve worked over the winter. There are some good riders here, and an explosive finisher like Rodríguez could do well that day, although I’ll try to be right up there with him.”
Nibali finished 17th overall last year and while he would like to improve on that, he now has the benefit of the experience of that first participation as well as the confidence boost he gained by winning the Tour.
The latter success moved him into the rare category of rider who has taken all three Grand Tours; in adding the French event to his earlier 2010 Vuelta a España overall win plus his 2013 Giro d’Italia triumph, he has become only the sixth rider in history to take all three.
Like Nibali, Rodriguez also competed in the first Dubai Tour last season and can draw upon that past knowledge this week.
He said he is yet to his peak condition but still believes he will be competitive on the terrain which suits him best.
“I feel good, although I am not planning to hit my best form until Tirreno-Adriatico in March,” he explained. “I’m not a sprinter, of course, but the third stage ends with a tough little climb. I’ll try to win it, although it will depend on my condition.”
Unlike Nibali and Rodriguez, Alejandro Valverde has already triumphed this season. He raced to victory on the third day of the Mallorca Challenge, taking the Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana. He was also second the preceeding day in the Trofeo Andratx – Mirador d’Es Colomer.
“I think that my form isn’t bad,” he acknowledged. “I feel good and strong, although this is a very different type of race for me. It really suits the sprinters, although there is a stage that finishes with 200m at 17%. I think it’s unlikely that all the sprinters will arrive in a bunch there.”
However, while he clearly has the form to try to do something, he is deflecting pressure at this point. “My team-mate Juan José Lobato is very quick, so we’ll be riding for him,” he said.
Still, few would bet against Valverde being in the mix on stage three and going for the win if conditions are right.
“There are lots of great riders here, like last year”
Like Valverde, Mark Cavendish has also won this season. The Etixx-QuickStep rider was first to the line on the final day of the Tour de San Luis in Argentina, bouncing back after being relegated to second by Colombian rider Fernando Gaviria on stages one and three.
He knows that he could add to his career list of over 100 victories this seek, and is looking forward to getting racing.
“We should see some good racing,” he predicted. “The wind could be a factor, although it wasn’t last year.
“It’s good to get the early season flowing. No one’s in their July form, it’s about getting the training in, getting some sprints under your belt, and getting the team working. It depends on who you talk to who the favourite is. There are lots of great riders here, like last year. It shows it’s a great race when the top riders come back.”
Cavendish laid out his targets and also named two of the rivals he considers to be the biggest obstacles to success.
“I’m just happy to be riding for Etixx-Quick Step and to try for some stage wins. Then we’ll see what we get overall,” he stated.
“Anything can happen in a sprint, so you can’t really judge a sprinter’s form on the sprint. You look at everything else. John [Degenkolb] is here, so is [Andrea] Guardini, and a couple of others, so there is some stiff competition.”
Degenkolb is yet to compete this year and is enthusiastic about the prospect of doing so.
“It is good to start racing again. It has been a long winter, I’ve done long days on the bike but without intense work. I’m really happy to be here and do some racing,” he said.
“Hopefully I’ll be involved in some sprints, get in one or two good fights and perhaps get a nice result. I’m in a good mood, it’s nice to be here and to have some fun.”
While Degenkolb noted that his Giant-Alpecin team also has another protected sprinter, he is eyeing his own chances.
“We also have a good sprinter in Luka Mezgec, so there isn’t so much pressure on me, although you always go into races wanting to win. I want to win a stage here.”
The race begins Wednesday with a 145 kilometre Union Flag stage, beginning at the Dubai International Marine Club, winding along a twisting course through Dubai Marina and then beginning four loops of an 8.2 kilometre circuit.
The 185 kilometre Palm stage follows and runs into the desert, then looping via Jumeirah Islands to the famous Palm Jumeirah, where a fast finale will await.
Stage three will likely be the big decider, with the 205 kilometre leg starting at the Dubai International Marine Club, then travelling into the Hajar Mountains, where the riders will tackle a series of short climbs prior to the final ramp up to the top of the Hatta Dam. This final ascent will reach a 17% gradient and will ensure a deserving winner.
The race will then conclude with a likely bunch gallop in front of the Burj Khalifa.