The World Tour is back! The 2022 UAE Tour starts tomorrow, February 20, and is the first race of the WT season, as was the case last year, due to the cancellation of the Australian portion of the calendar. Just like last year the race will be decided on the slopes of the Jebel Hafeet and Jebel Jais. This year the time trial is even shorter compared to the 2021 edition (9km vs 13km last year) which places even more importance on those climbs. Let’s take a look at the riders that are likely to be in the fight for the red jersey!
Honorable mentions: Fausto Masnada (Quick Step), Neilson Powless (EF Education), Gino Mader (Bahrain Victorious), David de la Cruz (Astana), and Romain Bardet (DSM).
- Jan Hirt (Intermache Wanty Gobert)
I can’t ignore a win in Oman earlier this month and, in my view, that victory in the Tour of Oman catapults Jan Hirt to favorite status in the UAE. It’s important to keep in mind that in the beginning of the season the riders have very few days of competition in their legs and favorite status is much more fluid than mid-season. He soundly beat strong competition in Fausto Masnada and Rui Costa in a scenario very similar to the one he will face this week. Sure, the competition is much stiffer in the UAE but, once again, a victory in the beginning of the season is really important when there is not much to evaluate riders on.
- Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma)
After coming back in the middle of 2021 and winning a silver medal in the Olympics and then getting a top-10 in the Benelux Tour, Tom Dumoulin showed that he’s back at a very high level. The 9km of time trial are not much but he will certainly take advantage of them to put some time on his rivals. In the mountains, we’ll see. That is the biggest question mark not only for this race but for the rest of his career. His ambitions will hinge on his ability in the mountains. After what I saw last year, I believe in him to came back as the Tom Dumoulin we remember from 2018. Australian Chris Harper (4th last year) is in Jumbo-Visma’s team for the 2022 UAE Tour but his shortcomings in the time trial lead me to believe that if Jumbo is going to leave UAE with the red jersey, it will be through Dumoulin.
- Adam Yates (Ineos)
Second last year, winner the year before, the British rider is always a factor in this race. I would be surprised if he didn’t finish on the podium, despite UAE Team Emirates’ firepower. His time trial ability will likely prevent him from winning the race (there was no time trial in 2020, when he won it) but 9km isn’t much so he might be able to limit his losses. In the end though, it is probably still enough to establish some important differences between contenders that will be difficult to claw back in only two mountain stages.
- Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora Hansgrohe)
“Form over fixture” is a saying you ever often in the betting community and I am riding it all the way in this Tour. Vlasov, much like Hirt, comes from a very impressive victory in the Vuelta a Comunidad Valenciana which puts him up there in my book. I mean, even if he hadn’t won anything the Russian’s pure skill and ability would put him as a favorite for this race. The fact that he’s showed very good form so early in the season means that he is the biggest threat to UAE’s star power.
- Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates)
Let’s be honest, the odds of Team Emirates letting anyone else walk out of their own country with the red jersey are very, very low. The combination of their incredible lineup (Pogacar, João Almeida, Rafal Majka, and George Bennett) and how much they care about winning on their own soil means that it is highly unlikely that anybody else will take the overall victory from them. Why not add João Almeida to the list? Well, he’d likely be the second favorite to win it, to be honest. But the star power of Pogacar is just too big to ignore. If given the opportunity to choose, I think the home team would take a victory with their crown jewel.
Outside of the fight for the red jersey, there are 4 flat stages that promise an incredible level of competition among some of the best sprinters on the road today. The names the 2022 UAE Tour managed to attract are incredible: Mark Cavendish, Dylan Groenewegen, Arnaud Démare, Sam Bennett, Jasper Philipsen, Pascal Ackermann, and Elia Viviani. The talent pool in cycling is getting very concentrated in a few teams which means a lot of these sprinters also have GC contenders within their teams. However, just by looking at the names, a lot of teams will be interested in bringing the flat stages to the line which will give us incredible showdowns between all those stars.
Finally, I have to commend the organizers in terms of the layout of stages this year. The 2021 edition ended with two flat stages on the final two days. The race leader (Tadej Pogacar, in that instance) was essentially just taking the leader’s jersey for a ride in the final two stages. This wouldn’t be so bad in a Grand Tour that has 21 days of competition, but the winner being decided still with 30% of the race to go is not a good thing, in my opinion. This year that all changed. The final stage will be exciting and will have an impact on the final general classification. It finishes atop of the Jebel Hafeet, probably the most difficult climb of the aforementioned two, and certainly the steepest.