This week’s Dubai Tour (February 4-7) offers a testing event which will be decided largely on bonus seconds. It’s a race that suits punchy riders able to come out on top in bunch finishes, and able to make it over the hills to get there.
John Degenkolb (Germany) Giant-AlpecinJohn Degenkolb may neither be the quickest sprinter in the race nor the best climber, but his all-round attributes make him the best candidate for the overall win. This being his first race of the season, Degenkolb may be a little rusty, but even out of form he is good enough to both contest the bunch sprints and pick up bonus seconds, as well as sticking with the climbers over the more difficult terrain.
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Alejandro Valverde (Spain) MovistarAlejandro Valverde is typically very strong at the start of the season, and is already off to winning ways this year with victory at the Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana. If he can put time into the sprint specialists on stage three, his quick finish makes him the favourite to win in a sprint between climbers, which could provide a platform to win overall.
Mark Cavendish (Great Britain) Etixx-QuickStepWere it not for the opening time-trial, last year’s Dubai Tour would have been won by Marcel Kittel on the strength of bunch sprint bonus seconds alone. With the time trial ditched for 2015, logic dictates that the best sprinter in this year’s race – Mark Cavendish – ought to be overall favourite, although the hillier stage three that last year saw a bunch sprint could this time round be more hotly contested by the climbers, with the lure of a possible overall win for those who can distance the sprinters.
A look ahead to the 2015 Dubai Tour (February 4-7): race info, stages, teams and more
Joaquim Rodriguez (Spain) KatushaLike his compatriot Valverde, Joaquim Rodriguez will be eyeing the hillier terrain to make his mark on the race. But unlike Valverde, he’s yet to race this year, and his form therefore remains unknown. He has a decent track record in early-season Middle-Eastern races having finished fourth in each of the last two editions of the Tour of Oman, winning a stage in 2013, so ought to enjoy the conditions.
Philippe Gilbert (Belgium) BMCLast year’s winner Taylor Phinney is not here to defend his title, so instead teammate Philippe Gilbert will lead BMC in Dubai. As one of the biggest names on the startlist he’s worth keeping an eye on, and he’s the kind of rider who likes to spring surprise attacks whenever he can, but the generally flat terrain will provide few opportunities.
Ben Swift (Great Britain) SkyA breakthrough third place finish at Milan-San Remo proved that Ben Swift can climb decently as well as sprint, so is unlikely to lose much time in the overall classification. But to win he’ll likely have to get the better of Degenkolb and Cavendish in the bunch sprints, which is a very big ask – especially as Sky may choose to lead out teammate Elia Viviani instead.
Vincenzo Nibali (Italy) AstanaThe Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali is the star name the organisers managed to attract, and his image has adorned many a promo photo in the lead-up to the race. But the Italian is unlikely to be anywhere as visible in the race itself, with his priority lying squarely in beginning the slow build-up to peak condition this July at the Tour.