Abu Dhabi Tour's shift to the spring marks changing shape of UCI WorldTour

The 2017 edition of the Abu Dhabi Tour will take place in February, just four months after this year's race as the UCI shakes up its WorldTour calendar

The peloton on stage 3 of the 2015 Abu Dhabi Tour (Watson)
(Image credit: Watson)

The Abu Dhabi Tour launched its 2016 edition on Tuesday, but already organisers will run it again next February as part of cycling's changing top WorldTour series.

Cycling's governing body granted the four-day Middle East race WorldTour status for 2017, 2018 and 2019. Instead of October, from the 20th to the 23rd this year with Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish racing, it will come at the end of a Gulf Swing of stage races.

It follows the Dubai Tour, also run by organiser RCS Sport and the Tour of Qatar and Tour of Oman, and precedes cycling's traditional calendar of classics and grand tours.

"It was not the only way [to obtain WorldTour status] ," said Lorenzo Giorgetti, CEO of RCS Sports. “We wanted to try to take in that input – making the race more assessable to the locals and better on the cyclists with February's cooler temperatures – and mix in with the other Middle East races.”

Giorgetti flies back and forth regularly from Milan to Abu Dhabi. The flight takes around six hours, nearly the same for anyone flying from Europe. He began doing so to work on the Dubai Tour and starting last October, when temperatures were often 40°C, the Abu Dhabi Tour.

"It's easier for the teams for their transfers if we are alongside the other Middle East races. This year, the fall date works well with the worlds in Doha beforehand, but if you look at next year, with the worlds in northern Europe... It would be a shock for many to fly there to the UAE.

"From a marketing direction, it will change because it allows the organisation to have more events outside and more fans on the roads. The stages are going to become longer in 2017. It'll still be four days, but with hard and long days. We’ll have more teams, the level will go up, and that's thanks to the WorldTour status and television coverage."

It is unclear if cycling's governing body, the UCI, will change the rules on participation in WorldTour races. Currently, all of the 18 WorldTour teams have guaranteed invitations to the 27 events that make up the series and are obliged to compete in each. It is a big assurance considering the WorldTour includes the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and all the major classics.

Peter Sagan on stage 1 of the 2015 Abu Dhabi Tour

Peter Sagan on stage 1 of the 2015 Abu Dhabi Tour
(Image credit: Watson)

As part of the UCI's reforms, the WorldTour will become more global for 2017 with 10 races promoted from HC status. The series still begins in January with the Tour Down Under, but Australia now also has the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race included.

Before the Paris-Nice stage race in March, the series continues with the Tour of Qatar and the Abu Dhabi Tour. Some teams may take the full Gulf Swing, by starting with the Dubai Tour and squeezing in the Tour of Oman between Qatar and Abu Dhabi.

"We are leaving it up to the teams to decide on their flights and their travels. We saw already with Dubai, Qatar and Oman that many of the riders didn't do all the races,” said Giorgetti. “As of 2016, we have extra days between Dubai and Qatar, and so it's easier. President Brian Cookson already talked about this Gulf Swing competition! But let's wait and see about that."

Of course, standing along side its Arab brothers in February and with its WorldTour status, the Abu Dhabi organisation knows they will have to perform better to stand out. Currently, Qatar hosts one of the first gathering of classics cyclists and Oman tests the grand tour contenders for the first time. Giorgetti said his race plans to further into the emirate and develop some of its current stages, like the Jebel Hafeet summit finish and YAS F1 circuit stages.

Other race organisers around the world are also working to be ready for their new 2017 WorldTour status. The UCI rounded out its top series with one-day races Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Strade Bianche and Dwars Door Vlaanderen in the spring. It added the Tour of Turkey in April, the Eschborn-Frankfurt, as always on May 1, and the Tour of California in May. The RideLondon-Surrey Classic, with new upped status, follows immediately after the Tour.

The spring classics and the grand tours still make up the meat of the WorldTour. And Il Lombardia, with its famous Ghisallo climb, continues to end it with a traditional note.

Esteban Chaves won the 2015 Abu Dhabi Tour (Watson)

Esteban Chaves won the 2015 Abu Dhabi Tour (Watson)
(Image credit: Watson)

2017 WorldTour schedule (* denotes new WorldTour races)

17-22 January: Santos Tour Down Under (Australia)

29 January: Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race (Australia)*

6-10 February: Tour of Qatar (Qatar)*

23-26 February: Abu Dhabi Tour (United Arab Emirates)*

25 February: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (Belgium)*

4 March: Strade Bianche (Italy)*

5-12 March: Paris-Nice (France)

8-14 March: Tirreno-Adriatico (Italy)

18 March: Milano-Sanremo (Italy)

20-26 March: Volta Ciclista a Catalunya (Spain)

22 March: Dwars Door Vlaanderen / A travers la Flandre (Belgium)*

24 March: Record Bank E3 Harelbeke (Belgium)

26 March: Gent-Wevelgem in Flanders Fields (Belgium)

2 April: Ronde van Vlaanderen / Tour des Flandres (Belgium)

3-8 April: Vuelta al País Vasco (Spain)

9 April: Paris-Roubaix (France)

16 April: Amstel Gold Race (Netherlands)

18-23 April: Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey (Turkey)*

19 April: La Flèche Wallonne (Belgium)

23 April: Liège-Bastogne-Liège (Belgium)

25-30 April: Tour de Romandie (Switzerland)

1 May: Eschborn-Frankfurt « Rund um den Finanzplatz » (Germany)*

6-28 May: Giro d’Italia (Italy)

14-21 May: Amgen Tour of California (United States)*

4-11 June: Critérium du Dauphiné (France)

10-18 June: Tour de Suisse (Switzerland)

1-23 July: Tour de France (France)

29 July: Clásica Ciclista San Sebastian (Spain)

29 July-4 August: Tour de Pologne (Poland)

30 July: Prudential RideLondon-Surrey Classic (Great Britain)*

7-13 August: Eneco Tour (Benelux)

19 August-10 September: Vuelta a España (Spain)

20 August: Cyclassics Hamburg (Germany)

27 August: Bretagne Classic – Ouest-France (France)

8 September: Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec (Canada)

10 September: Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal (Canada)

30 September: Il Lombardia (Italy)

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