'Sprint Kings' Cavendish and Kittel start 2018 with showdown in Dubai
A Dubai Tour ‘hat trick’ for back-to-back winner Marcel Kittel will have to come at the expense of a healthy Mark Cavendish and a motivated Elia Viviani - writes Aaron S Lee.
Last year’s pivotal fourth stage was cancelled due to poor weather conditions due to a sandstorm with abrasive wind gusts up to 65km/h. However this year, 2015 winner Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) is hoping Stage 4 (176km) remains intact and is looking forward to challenging for a result.
“It's nice to be back and hopefully riding Hatta again,” said former world champion Cavendish, who was sidelined shortly after Dubai last season after being diagnosed with Epstein Barr Virus - an illness commonly known as glandular fever or mononucleosis.
“The cancellation of the Hatta stage really affected the outcome. Not saying the overall win, but the top positions.”
For the 32-year-old ‘Manx Missile’ who has amassed a second-best 30 stage wins at the Tour de France, it is always a sweet return to the UAE.
“When I won the overall classification in 2015, it was the first Dubai Tour without a time trial,” he said. “I was with Quick-Step at the time. I had a great lead out train and I got through the hard stage to Hatta Dam. The amount of sprints here makes it very attractive. I spend a lot of time in Dubai, so it’s nice to be back.”
A return to the top of the podium will not be easy for Cavendish, who will be led out by Bernie Eisel (AUT) and longtime lead-out man Mark Renshaw (AUS) during the five-stage UCI 2.HC Asia Tour road race, as returning back-to-back winner Marcel Kittel (GER) is keen on kicking off his season with a bang for his new team Katusha-Alpecin.
“I came here like every year for my first race of the season,” said Kittel, who picked up 14 UCI victories, tying him with former Quick-Step teammate Fernando Gaviria (COL) for the season’s best totals. “I’ve changed team but my motivation is the same.
“We’ll try our best to go for the victory, but we’ll take it day by day, as we’re not yet concentrated on scoring the hat trick.
“Elia Viviani certainly has a very good team, with my old train, but I also have a strong team with a lot of German speaking riders,” said Kittel of the 2016 Olympic omnium gold medallist, who has moved over from Team Sky and has already recorded a stage win this year in the WorldTour opener at the Tour Down Under in January. “I’m curious to find out how good we are.”
For Viviani, the 28-year-old Italian is keen to up the ante after finishing as a runner-up to Kittel on three sprint stages last year to take fifth overall.
“When you change teams, you get a new motivation,” said Viviani. “Now I can enjoy a lead-out team. It’s a big chance for me, good start of season for sure. In Australia, it’s never easy to go and try to win and we had a good win there. This team is very focused on the sprint and this makes a difference for me.”
Viviani has enjoyed success in Dubai in the past, picking up two stage wins previously including the Palm Jumeirah finish, which serves as the opening stage finale on Tuesday.
“Stage 1 (167km) has a really nice finish – I’ve won there two times – positioning before the final straight is crucial, depending on the crosswinds,” said Viviani. “It is really fast sprint and you can’t come from too far behind.”