The 2020 UAE Tour (23rd to 29th February 2020), the one and only WorldTour race in the Middle East, has a variety of stages and terrains, creating different challenges and opportunities for the world’s best riders who come to compete.
United Arab Emirates, 19 February 2020 – With seven riders in each team for a top-tier race of the UAE Tour’s stature, cycling is very much a team sport. Alongside sprinters, General Classification ‘overall’ competition riders, and climbers are vital members of each team.
The GC Competition
Winning the General Classification (GC) – the competition ranking riders by their fastest overall time throughout the UAE Tour – is typically the primary focus of a WorldTour team’s efforts. The leader of the GC can be seen wearing the Red Jersey (sponsored by Emirates) out on the road. Primož Roglič (Team Jumbo Visma), a formidable competitor on any terrain, dominated last year’s inaugural UAE Tour, and wore the Red Jersey from start to finish. It was a show of strength by the Slovenian rider who went on to triumph at the 2019 Vuelta a España. Like last year, winning the 2020 UAE Tour overall will demand exceptional ability and consistency across all seven stages.
Throughout a WorldTour stage race every GC rider relies on their teammates. Riders known as ‘domestiques’, (from the French word for ‘servant’) are essential to any team, pushing the pace on attacks, countering moves from opposing teams, dropping back to their team’s support car to gather fresh water bottles for their GC leaders, pacing riders returning to the main peloton following a crash or mechanical issue, or shielding teammates from harsh headwinds.
The UAE Tour’s Climbing Stages
Another important role is the climbing specialist. Often small in stature and low in weight with very little body fat, climbers thrive on stages with either sustained mountains or, as in the UAE Tour, shorter, steeper, exciting climbing challenges.
The 2020 UAE Tour, like any WorldTour multi-day stage race, will see riders confront numerous major climbs. The first of three stages with serious elevation, Stage 2 finishes with a demanding sprint up the Hatta Dam, with slopes ranging from 12% to a gruelling 17%. With a false flat leading up to the punishing 1km long ascent, expect to see teams battle for position in a cagey introduction to the climb before a fierce sprint as the road ramps up sharply. While climbing specialists such as Trek Segafredo’s Giulio Ciccone (58kg) will be targeting a stage win at Hatta Dam, look out for the pocket-rocket Caleb Ewan (67kg) who will look to translate his sprinting power to a second successive victory on the short, punchy incline. Last year saw Ewan outmuscle Red Jersey wearer Roglič (65kg), kicking out 1230 watts to Roglič’s 1110 in an explosive duel for the stage win.
Jebel Hafeet, a far lengthier climb akin to a classic Alpine col, will be tackled twice this year, with a thrilling summit finish in Stages 3 and 5. At 10.8km long with an average gradient of 6.6%, the twisty mountain pass steepens dramatically just over 1km from the finish, reaching a maximum gradient of 11%. Spectators should anticipate frenzied attacks from riders looking to punish their rivals at the mountain’s toughest point before its shallower, fast finish. Last year, 2018 World Champion Alejandro Valverde (61kg) did just that; shaking off a host of competitors in the final kilometre before outsprinting the ever-present Roglič to the line. The Movistar Team leader completed the climb in just 5 minutes 28 seconds at a staggering average speed of 30.8kph.
Who to Watch
This year’s steep climbs will have a significant impact on the GC standings, as riders will seek to gain valuable seconds on their rivals when twice ascending (and descending) Jebel Hafeet.
Keep an eye open for Tadej Pogačar, the talented young Slovenian – winner of the 2019 Tour of California and third placed on GC at the Vuelta a España – who rides for UAE Team Emirates, along with his teammate, the Italian Road Champion, Davide Formolo, who together present a major threat.
Close attention should be paid to the four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome (66kg). Choosing the UAE Tour as his return from major injury, the Team Ineos GC leader is known for his exceptional climbing and agile descending – regularly reaching speeds of 80kph downhill. The British hopeful Adam Yates (58kg) and the French rising star David Gaudu (53kg), riding for Mitchelton-Scott and Groupama – FDJ respectively, will also look to impress.
For the GC riders competing at the 2020 UAE Tour, the race is likely to be won, and lost uphill. Expect all-out attacks, dramatic summit finishes and a great spectacle.