The UAE Tour marks the start of the 2021 WorldTour, with the week-long Middle Eastern stage race attracting some of the biggest names in the peloton.
Tadej Pogačar and new signing Masrc Hirschi lead UAE Team Emirates in their home race, while 2020 winner Adam Yates makes his debut at Ineos Grenadiers alongside world time trial champion Filippo Ganna.
Meanwhile, Chris Froome races with Israel Start-Up Nation for the first time, while Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal), Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) and Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) and others will clash in the sprint stages.
The loss of other early-season stage races to COVID-19 has only bolstered the UAE Tour start list, with Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo), Giro d’Italia revelation João Almeida (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Rigoberto Urán (EF Education-Nippo), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), and Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) also taking part.
The official entry list also includes Clásica de Almería winner Giacomo Nizzolo (Team Qhubeka Assos), fellow Italian Elia Viviani (Cofidis), who returns to racing after a recent heart intervention, and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), who will start his 2021 road season at the UAE Tour after winning a fourth cyclo-cross world title at the end of January.
A total of 20 teams of seven riders will be in action from Sunday February 21 until Saturday February 27, with the stage 2 time trial and the mountain finishes at Jebel Hafeet on stage 3 and then to Jebel Jais on stage 5 expected to decide the overall winner.
Four of the seven stages are expected to culminate in bunch sprints as the race moves around the UAE peninsula between Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the other emirates.
It will be the third edition of the race, which was added to the WorldTour calendar in 2019 following the merger of the Dubai Tour and the Abu Dhabi Tour. Primož Roglič won in 2019 while Adam Yates won last year’s event after defeating Pogačar on the second ascent of Jebel Hafeet.
Three COVID-19 tests and strict medical protocol
The 2020 edition of the UAE Tour was halted after five days due to confirmed cases of COVID-19 on the race and the entire race caravan was placed in lockdown in their hotel in Abu Dhabi. Several riders, including Fernando Gaviria, tested positive and four teams spent extended periods in quarantine before being allowed to leave the country.
To try to limit the risk of further cases in 2021, the race organisers have combined the UCI COVID-19 medical protocol and local UAE rules to create a specific race protocol. A significant part of the UAE population has been vaccinated but case numbers have been rising after tourists were welcomed in the UAE during the holidays.
The race caravan will kept to a minimum, with the 450 riders and race staff flying to the UAE on special charter flights from Paris and Milan on Wednesday. No international media will travel to the race and riders will stay in a hotel inside the Yas Marina motor racing circuit, while staff will stay elsewhere.
Everyone in the race caravan will undergo a number of COVID-19 PCR tests to try to detect any cases and create a protective bubble around the race. They all underwent a first PCR on Monday, with a second test planned for when they arrive in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.
A third round of tests will be carried out on Sunday morning before the first stage. Tests will also be done on Thursday February 25, so they can return to their home after the race.
Cyclingnews will have full coverage of the UAE Tour with live updates from the seven days of racing as well as stage reports, interviews, and a guide on how to watch the race live via TV and live stream.