Deceuninck-QuickStep will fight on two fronts at the upcoming UAE Tour, with Sam Bennett to contest the numerous sprint stages and João Almeida to target the overall title.
The seven-day race, which begins on Sunday, features four stages that are expected to culminate in bunch sprints, and the Belgian team are boarding the plane with strong support for Bennett.
Michael Mørkøv and Shane Archbold will provide a dedicated lead-out for the Irishman, while Iljo Keisse adds horsepower for the closing kilometres.
Bennett enjoyed a strong first season with Deceuninck-QuickStep in 2020, winning seven races, including two stages and the green jersey at the Tour de France, and he is keen to hit the ground running in 2021.
“It’s been a good winter and I am looking forward to starting the season. You always wait for the first race to see where the condition is, so Sunday can’t come soon enough,” Bennett said.
“There will be plenty of sprint opportunities and I hope to do good, although I expect some stiff competition. The team had a great start to the season in France last week and it would be nice if we could continue that – it’s what we want.”
Away from the sprints, the overall title will come down to two summit finishes and a short individual time trial.
The time trial comes on stage 2 and measures 13km, before the race heads up the familiar climb of Jebel Hafeet – 10km at 6.8 per cent – on stage 3. The other summit finish is on the steadier Jebel Jais climb – 20km at 5.8 per cent – on stage 5.
Almeida, who finished no lower than 6th in the three time trials en route to placing fourth overall at the Giro d’Italia, will lead the charge for Deceuninck-QuickStep given his all-round ability. The 22-year-old will be supported on the hillier terrain by Fausto Masnada and Matteo Cattaneo.
“It feels good to finally start the season,” Almeida said. “I’m excited about going to the UAE and discovering this race. I don’t know exactly where my form is, you never know after the winter, but I will take it day by day and see how things go.”
Team director Geert Van Bondt added: “We have a strong team for the first WorldTour race of the year, an event which will be made even more interesting by the presence of an individual time trial, something rare in the UAE.”
“In Sam – who had a great first season with the Wolfpack – we have a guy who can fight for results on four stages, with Michael and Shane there for him and Iljo as team captain, a very strong rider capable of controlling the race. For the mountains, we have three riders – João, Mattia and Fausto – all strong guys, so overall we are excited to go there.”
Deceuninck-QuickStep for UAE Tour
- João Almeida
- Shane Archbold
- Sam Bennett
- Mattia Cattaneo
- Iljo Keisse
- Fausto Masnada
- Michael Mørkøv