Madinat Zayed > Madina Zayed 184.1km
It’s a strange looking opening stage. The bunch head south, then do two laps of a circuit that includes a series of small climbs, before heading due north towards the finishing line. The whole race takes place in the desert, so there is a chance of echelons, but the climbers will be delighted when they check the weather forecast.
Hot, we’re talking temperatures over 30 degrees. The wind will come from the south and will be around 20km/h, but I don’t expect any echelons as most of the stage is either headwind or tailwind.
The finishing straight is 50km long! Honestly, there isn’t a single turn in the final 50km, that’s quite incredible. Timing your push to the front is critical in a finish like this, having corners makes it much easier for the sprint trains.
Mark Cavendish – started the season well in Oman, taking a very impressive stage win. He arrives here with Mørkøv, the best lead out man in the world. They don’t have the longest sprint train in this race, I’m looking forward to seeing how the young track star, Ethan Vernon, fits into the train. Cav starts as one of the big favourites.
Dylan Groenewegen – took two wins in the Saudi Tour, a great start to his BikeExchange career. He arrives here with a full team to support him in the sprints, it’s like the old HTC days. Mezgec did a great job in the Saudi Tour, and now they’ll have Kaden Groves sitting in position 3. BikeExchange should be the team to boss the final kilometres, and they’ll hope to launch Dylan from the front.
Sam Bennett – this is his first race of the season, so expectations are little lower than normal. The train should be Mullen, Archbold, van Poppel and Bennett but there are some doubts about Sam’s current fitness. The train is strong, and he will take many wins this season, but it’s possibly too early for him to be challenging.
Elia Viviani – he’s started the season in good form. Ineos have put some resources his way, but I have no idea how his sprint train will line up. It’s likely that Ganna will be used in position 3, he’s perfect to smash to the front with 1km to go, then it’s probably going to be Luke Plapp to help towards the end. The young Aussie is a very good track rider, he should be good as a final lead out man.
Alberto Dainese – with Nieuwenhuis and Bol to lead him out, Dainese should be capable of challenging for the podium. The Italian ended last season in good form, just missing out on a stage win in the Vuelta but finishing on the podium three times. Winning against the level of sprinters here will tough, but not impossible.
Pascal Ackermann – lacking support as UAE are here to win the GC. He will have Bjerg and Richeze, but it’s going to be tough to challenge for the win.
Arnaud Démare – he’s here with his full sprint train, I do love the FDJ boys. Konovalovas, Scotson, Sinkeldam and Guarnieri are a very good sprint train, and they’ve been working together for several years. It’s been a while since Démare won against the very best, but he should still be up there and challenging.
Olav Kooij – the 20-year-old starts his season here. He ended last year by taking two wins in Croatia, he might be young, but he’s very fast. He doesn’t have a huge amount of support, so we’ll have to see if he can manage to start the sprint in a good position.
Mads Pedersen – he’s started the season in fine form, with a win and two second places in Bessèges. He doesn’t have his normal lead out train here, they’re all part of the classics squad. Pedersen is a rider who can surf the wheels in the finale, I wouldn’t write him off for this stage.
Jasper Philipsen – the Belgian made a huge step last year, ending the season as one of the best sprinters in the world. At the end of the year, he was looking unbeatable. This is his first race of 2022, so we’ll have to see how his current level is. He does arrive with a good sprint train; I would expect Jonas Rickaert to be his last man. Given what happened last year, he must start as one of the favourites for this stage.
That man, Jasper Philipsen, to pick up from where he left off last year.
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