Chris Froome will make his racing debut for Israel Start-Up Nation at the UAE Tour between February 21-27, going up against Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar, Marc Hirschi, Mathieu van der Poel, Adam Yates and a host of other big-name riders in the first WorldTour race of 2021.
The four-time Tour de France winner is spending the pre-season in California, doing extra strength training at the Red Bull High Performance centre to complete his recovery from the injuries he sustained in his 2019 crash. Froome was set to make his season debut at the Vuelta a San Juan but the Argentinean race was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
All 19 WorldTour teams have confirmed their presence at the UAE Tour, with Van der Poel’s Alpecin-Fenix squad also given a place, meaning the Tour of Flanders winner will make his road racing debut three weeks after the cyclo-cross World Championships.
Race organiser RCS Sport also revealed that world time trial champion Filippo Ganna will be part of the Ineos Grenadiers squad alongside Adam Yates. The sprint stages will also be hotly contested, with Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal), Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) all confirmed on the start list.
The UAE Tour is set to start and finish in Abu Dhabi, though the full route has yet to be released. Primož Roglič won in 2019, while Adam Yates won last year, edging out Pogačar.
Last year’s UAE Tour was halted after five days due to confirmed cases of COVID-19 on the race. The entire race caravan was placed in lockdown in their hotels in Abu Dhabi, and four teams spent extended periods in quarantine before being allowed to leave the country. Gaviria was one of the riders to catch the virus.
Race organiser RCS Sport said it will put in place “strict COVID-19 protocols designed to ensure the safety of all riders, staff and everyone involved” in the 2021 edition of the race.
This year’s UAE Tour is set to be the first race of the 2021 WorldTour after the Santos Tour Down Under was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Other early-season races have also fallen by the wayside.
The January cancellations and postponements mean that most riders in the WorldTour peloton are planning to begin the 2021 season in Europe, where the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and Étoile de Bessèges (both February 3-7) are the first stage races on the calendar.
One-day racing in Europe kicks off with a number of smaller teams riding the Clàssica Comunitat Valenciana 1969 on January 24, before six WorldTour teams ride the Grand Prix Cycliste la Marseillaise in France on January 31.