UAE Women’s Tour 2024 Preview

The second edition of the women’s UAE Tour is the second Women’s World Tour race of the season, providing a stopgap between the opening races in Australia, and the beginning of the European season later on in February. Over four days, selections from the top WWT teams will take on stages across the middle Eastern desert, and with both sprint stages and climbing on the menu, the race provides an early opportunity to assess the form of the major players in the women’s peloton ahead of the 2024 season.

With the heat and the crosswinds to contend with, while the race looks simple enough on paper, there may be a few curveballs that the riders will have to be alert for. Stronger teams such as Lidl-Trek may use the exposed stretches of desert to drive the pace and if echelons form, it will be a tough slog for any teams missing out. Last year’s race was dominated by the American team and they will look to defend their title against the selections of eight other WWT teams and four continental sides.

The Route

Four stages, covering a total of 468.6km, make up the 2024 UAE Women’s Tour, with three flat stages for the sprinters and one climb that will decide the winner of the general classification.

Stage 1 – Thursday 8 January – Dubai Miracle Garden-Dubai Harbour (122km, Flat)

The first of three flat stages designed to test the mettle of the sprinters, stage 1 begins in the Dubai Miracle Gardens and spends the first half of the day on a false flat heading up to a maximum altitude of just 100m, before spending the second half of the stage on a false flat that takes them steadily back down to the coastline at Dubai Harbour. The race will bypass many of the main sights of Dubai on its route, and there are two intermediate sprint points for the riders contesting the points jersey.

With just 400m of elevation spread evenly through the first 60km, and the wide, well paved roads of Dubai offering just a handful of roundabouts to contend with, there are very few obstacles preventing the peloton arriving together at Dubai Harbour for the first bunch sprint of the race.

Stage 2 – Friday 9 February – Al Mirfa Bab Al Nojoum-Madinat Zayed (113km, Flat)

The race travels west of Abu Dhabi for stage 2, and begins inland in Al Mirfa near the Arabian Gulf coast, traversing over 60km of desert to the day’s final destination of Madinat Zayed. The peloton will need to be alert for crosswinds, as the first 40km or so travels across pan-flat desert before the land rises slightly as the race moves nearer to the coast. Two intermediate sprints lead to a final plateau where we will likely see the second sprint of the race, as the bunch heads along 10km of wide, straight road as it accelerates towards the finish line.

Stage 3 – Saturday 10 February – Al Ain Police Museum-Jebel Hafeet (128km, Flat, uphill finish)

The decisive day in the battle for the general classification will be stage 3. The peloton begins the stage in Al Ain. Heading through the city and out into the desert, the riders will have another day of wide open expanse to traverse, and with crosswinds once again a danger, the GC teams will have to be on high alert for echelons, as losing touch during the central part of the stage may mean they have too much time to make up once the front of the bunch hits the climb.

The only climbing test of the race, Jebel Hafeet is a serious challenge, particularly for legs used to the long, flat roads of the middle eastern desert. 9.2km in length and with an average gradient of 7.2%, the sandy ascent reaches pitches of up to 10.8%, but on the whole is a pretty steady slog of a climb. The rider who crests the summit of Jebel Hafeet first will almost certainly become the overall winner of the second edition of the UAE Women’s Tour.

Stage 4 – Sunday 11 February – Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum-Abu Dhabi Breakwater (105km, Flat)

The final stage of the race is a cycling tour of Abu Dhabi, and is the flattest of the lot. Slightly shorter than the rest, and with less in the way of exposed desert road to contend with, it’s a nailed on sprint stage. Two intermediate sprints break up the day, before the bunch heads towards the Abu Dhabi Breakwater along relatively uncomplicated roads for the finish.

Riders to Watch

In terms of stage victories there are two sets of riders to consider: the sprinters, and the climbers. The climbers will have their sights set on the general classification, while the sprinters will be rolling up their sleeves ready to test their legs head-to-head for the first time in what’s often unofficially referred to as the sprinter’s World Championships.

The fast women in attendance include SD Worx’ Lorena Wiebes, and her former teammate turned rival Charlotte Kool (Team DSM firmenich-PostNL), and they look set to start the season off with a bang, resuming their rivalry at the earliest possible opportunity with three potential sprint opportunities. Movistar’s Emma Norsgaard has a fast finish and could challenge if she has the early season form to go up against arguably the two greatest sprint talents in the peloton. DSM also bring new signing Rachele Barbieri who could offer a second option should Kool run into difficulty.

SD Worx also have two fast finishers among their ranks, naming all-around hitter Lotte Kopecky in the squad, and it’s unclear at this early stage whether she will be sprinting, testing out her newly honed climbing skills (remember her epic performance on the Tourmalet at last year’s Tour de France Femmes) or simply doing Lotte Kopecky things, and having a fair crack at everything.

In terms of GC though, it’s far more like that we look to the purer climbers to find our overall victor. Gaia Realini’s incredible work domestiquing for Elisa Longo Borghini in last year’s race, in her first race for the Trek team, cemented her as one to watch, and she went on to show her talent and resilience throughout the season. Once again, the two leaders for Lidk-Trek will be Longo Borghini and Realini, and with the Italian finishing the 2023 season below par she may look to start her season on a high; alternatively, it’s possible she may return the favour and ride for Realini this year.

One of the main rivals to Lidl-Trek for the overall win is Canyon//SRAM. They bring Tour de France stage winner Ricarda Bauernfeind, who proved herself an excellent climber at last year’s Vuelta and may pose a threat to last year’s top two. FDJ-SUEZ’s Loes Adegeest could also be seen as an outsider capable of putting in a strong performance to challenge on GC.

Riders to watch (GC)

5-stars Gaia Realini

4-stars Ricarda Bauernfeind

3-stars Elisa Longo Borghini

2-stars Lotte Kopecky

1-star Loes Adegeest

Summary

When – Thursday 8 – Sunday 11 February 2024

Where – United Arab Emirates

What – 4-day stage race

TV Coverage: Discovery+, Eurosport

 

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