Etixx – Quick-Step ready for Dubai Tour
The third edition of the Middle East race will be Marcel Kittel's first appointment of the season.
Etixx – Quick-Step opens its February campaign in the Persian Gulf, where a eight-man team will line-up for the Dubai Tour (3-6), a sprinter-friendly race that is set to provide a somehow balanced fight for the general classification, where the bonus seconds could play again an important role, just like last year, when Etixx – Quick-Step won the overall.
On the first day, the peloton will cross four different Emirates – Dubai, Sharjah, Ras al-Khaimah and Fujairah – before an expected sprint finish, which should be seen also on the second stage, when the riders will pass through an underwater tunnel before arriving on the Palm, an artificial island. Stage 3 will head out into the desert for a more challenging terrain, the climax being hit on the final climb of Hatta Dam, a short one, but with a 17% maximum gradient. Time differences can be made on that penultimate day, before the race concludes with another pan-flat stage.
Marcel Kittel returns to the Middle East for what will be his first competition in the Etixx – Quick-Step jersey: "I'm really happy to start the season, and I'm looking forward to this race. It will be a good opportunity for the team to see how the winter training went and to work together on the lead-out".
Unfortunately, Maximiliano Richeze – who was scheduled to ride Dubai – won't be at the start, as he's still recovering from his Tour de San Luis crash, and is due to undergo further medical examinations on his left leg in the following days, which means he will be replaced by Iljo Keisse: "Max won't join us, which is a pity for him and for us. I wish him a fast recovery and I hope he will return soon. Instead of him, we'll have Iljo here, another rider with huge experience, on who we can rely on", concluded the 27-year-old German.
Not only Marcel Kittel is excited about racing in Dubai, but also Brian Holm, the team's sport director in the Middle East, where he'll be joined by Tom Steels: "To be quite sincere, I can't wait for the race to start. Dubai is going to be a new experience, considering we will be there with Marcel Kittel. It's the first race for him with his new lead-out train, so we have to take it step by step to see how it develops. We have a fair chance to win a stage and we will definitely go for it, but without putting any pressure on the boys."
Joining Marcel Kittel for the trip to the Middle East will be Tony Martin, Nikolas Maes, Matteo Trentin, Julien Vermote, Iljo Keisse, Fabio Sabatini and Lukasz Wisniowski, the last two coming straight from Argentina, where they helped the team win two stages.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele