The 2021 WorldTour kicks off on Sunday with the third UAE Tour, a stage race called the Abu Dhabi Tour from 2015 to 2018, and this year’s edition will be eager to put the ghosts of 2020’s competition to rest with a strong lineup.
Last February, the race’s final two stages were cancelled after two Italian staff members on one of the teams tested positive for COVID-19. Adam Yates, leading Tadej Pogačar by 1:01, was declared the winner. Then the riders and staff were quarantined in their hotel rooms, with Canadian Alex Cataford hunkering down with his Israel Start-up Nation squad. After the UAE Tour, the WorldTour—and nearly all world professional road cycling—was put on hold for five months.
Now the race returns, and in light of February’s furious action so far in French non-WorldTour contests, the riders are raring to go. Yates and Pogačar are back, as is last year’s third place Alexey Luksenko and fifth place Rafal Majka, now Pogacar’s UAE-Emirates teammate. Wout Poels, João Almeida, Vincenzo Nibali, Rigoberto Urán, Emanuel Buchmann and Alejandro Valverde are all podium threats. All eyes will be on Chris Froome as he debuts for his new outfit, Israel Start-up Nation.
#2021 #YallaISN pic.twitter.com/WOzEOmXlrv
— Chris Froome (@chrisfroome) January 1, 2021
There are three big stages for the GC men: the 13-km chrono of Stage 2; the next day’s traditional summit finish on Jebel Hefeet; and Stage 5’s longer, milder summit finish atop Jebel Jais.
The sprinters will have four days to strut their stuff, and Mathieu van der Poel will be challenging the more traditional fast men like Sam Bennett, Giacomo Nizzolo, Caleb Ewan, and Pascal Ackermann, the latter two of whom took stage wins last year.
Although Astana-Premier Tech’s new Canadian Ben Perry was originally penciled in for the race, he won’t be on the start line; Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne is now slated to be his debut race.