'It feels good to be racing again': Chris Froome ready to make cycling return at UAE Tour
The four-time Tour de France winner has been sidelined since a crash at the Criterium du Dauphine last June left him with a fractured thigh, elbow and vertebrae
The UAE Tour has drawn some of cycling’s biggest names but all eyes at this year's race will be fixed on Chris Froome, who marks his return to action for the first time since suffering life-threatening injuries eight months ago.
The four-time Tour de France winner has been sidelined since a crash at the Criterium du Dauphine last June left him with a fractured thigh, elbow and vertebrae.
The Briton, 35, said he was “extremely happy" to be competing in the second edition of the UAE Tour.
“I was hoping to do this race last year but I didn’t make it,” the Team Ineos rider said at the pre-race conference in Dubai on Saturday.
“After the crash last June, I’ve been away from racing for eight months. It feels good to be racing again. I’m really excited to be here. I hope that I’m at the right level."
A seven-time Grand Tour winner, Kenyan-born Froome dampened any expectations that he would ride into Abu Dhabi at the end of Stage 7 as the UAE Tour's new champion.
“I’m certainly not gonna be winning this week! I’ve gone through really tough moments in the past eight months, but my goal was always to start this season relatively early and I’m super happy to be given the second chance to be back in the peloton.”
While Froome may not harbour thoughts of finishing on top of the podium, former UCI Road World Champion and last year's runner-up Alejandro Valverde said he hopes to get his season off to a winning start.
“I’m not in the shape I was in one year ago but it’s getting better and better,” Valverde, who rides for Movistar Team, said.
“I want to enjoy this beautiful race where I have great memories, since it was my first victory in the rainbow jersey. The UAE Tour is a good race to start the season.”
The seven-day UAE Tour will see 210 cyclists from 20 teams, including 18 of the 19 UCI World Teams flagged off in the opening 148-kilometre stage from The Pointe to Dubai Silicon Oasis.
The UAE Tour last year was flagged off in Abu Dhabi with the finish in Dubai and this time it is the other way around, the race concluding in the capital on February 29.
Primoz Roglic of Jumbo-Visma won the General Classification last year but the Slovenian is not here to defend his crown.
In last year’s race, there were four sprint finishes. No rider managed a double win, with Fernando Gaviria, Caleb Ewan, Elia Viviani and Sam Bennett clinching one stage victory each.
“The season started as well as I had hoped, but I’ve not been racing since the Santos Tour Down Under,” Australian rider Ewan said.
“In training I feel good. To win here as a sprinter, you need to be in top shape against all these guys.”
Home hopes rest with the considerable talents of Tadej Pogacar, the young Slovenian who won Stage 4 of the 2019 UAE Tour.
“We are well prepared and expect good results in the sprints with Fernando [Gaviria],” said the UAE Team Emirates cyclist.
“I’ll try to do my best on Jabel Hafeet but I know it will be hard to repeat the success of my compatriot Primoz Roglic who won this race last year.”
Updated: February 22, 2020 08:06 PM