Vincenzo Nibali, Nairo Quintana, and Alberto Contador lead a star-studded line-up in Abu Dhabi

Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) says that the stars in the Abu Dhabi Tour will aim for the summit finish and overall classification this weekend, but that his big goals are down the road in the Grand Tours.

Nibali leads one of the two top Middle Eastern teams in the Abu Dhabi Tour along with UAE Team Emirates with Rui Costa. The team wants him to win the four-day race, starting on Thursday, but focuses primarily on the Giro d’Italia in May.

“It’s something serious but the Giro is my main goal,” Nibali told Cycling Weekly off to the side of a pre-race press conference.

“I come here with good legs and I’m well trained but my head is not one hundred per cent into this race will be for Tirreno-Adriatico next month or the Giro.

“To go strongly in a race like this does wonders for your morale and give you motivation, but all of us here have goals further the down the road. That’s the same for everyone.”

>>> Tom Dumoulin: If you can get a top ten in Abu Dhabi, you can get a top ten in a Grand Tour

The UCI beefed up its WorldTour calendar with 10 promoted races from all over the world despite the complaints of some stakeholders.

The Abu Dhabi Tour, now in its third year, received the UCI’s nod to enter the top series. Now, it offers WorldTour points and greater prize money with the overall winner takes home 300 points and up to €24,500.

Organisers have been able to pack the Abu Dhabi Tour start list with every general classification star except Sky’s Chris Froome, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott). On the start line tomorrow will be Nibali, Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo), Fabio Aru (Astana), Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale).


Watch: Middle East races essential guide


Nibali, standing beside Alberto Contador, named the Spaniard as the race favourite after his recent second place ride in the Ruta del Sol behind Valverde

“The key will be in the third stage with the summit finish,” said Contador.

“It is a hard climb and there may be big time gaps. It will be important that the team works in the wind and is well placed for the start of the climb.”

The 10.6-kilometre Jabel Hafeet climb coming at the end of stage three decided the race the last two editions. In 2015, Esteban Chaves won after Wout Poels (Sky) slid and crashed in the final corner, and in 2016 Tanel Kangert (Astana) took home the trophy.

“The first part of the climb is pretty tough, but after that it relaxes a bit,” added Nibali. “In the end it gets hard again and you need to be very concentrated.

“If you look at the level of riders that are here, I believe that there will be a bit of nervousness in the group.”

Two-time Grand Tour winner Nairo Quintana is also in the peloton for the Abu Dhabi Tour. He too considers this race an important points-rich stepping stone to upcoming goals.

Quintana, who won the Vuelta a la Comunitat Valenciana earlier in February, will race Tirreno-Adriatico in his build up to the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France double.

“Yes, in Valenciana, I already showed that I’ve had good level,” Quintana explained.

“It’s true that I have a good level, but we cannot forget the upcoming goals.”