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February 2024 Road Racing Preview

February 2024 Road Racing Preview

The second month of 2024 has arrived, with more cycling to sweep away the January blues, including the only Middle Eastern WorldTour race, and the Opening Weekend of the classics. Raced on wildly differing terrain at wildly differing temperatures and with wildly different temperaments, February is a month of contrasts, but fittingly we’re here to break it all down with our characteristic love and affection.

 

10th – 14th Tour of Oman

14th-18th Volta ao Algarve

19th – 25th UAE Tour

24th Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Men's Edition

25th Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne

 

 

8th – 11th UAE Tour Women

24th Omloop Het Nieuwsblad Women's Edition

 

Tour of Oman

 10th to 14th February

Although not a WorldTour race, the 2. Pro race in the Arabian Peninsula still tends to attract the stars, many using it as a warm-up for the UAE Tour, which follows on a few days later in the neighbouring Emirates.

Indeed, Adam Yates (UAE Team Emirates) and Fabio Jakobsen (DSM-Firmenich PostNL) will be amongst those top-level riders using Oman’s beautiful and varied terrain to get their legs into shape. The explosive and fantastically exciting Isaac Del Toro will be looking to continue his form from the Tour Down Under and cement his claim to ride in the toughest races alongside the best riders on UAE’s roster. Finn Fisher-Black is another youngster in UAE’s white and black strip who will be worth the watch in this pro-race as they test themselves against the likes of Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious) and last year’s winner Matteo Joergenson (Movistar).

The route tends to cover the majority of the country’s diverse terrain, from rolling desert flats to small hills and demanding mountain climbs. The course includes sections with significant elevation change that can be good preparation for the high-altitude racing coming later in the year. The Green Mountain ascent, as always, takes pride of place as The Tour of Oman’s Queen Stage and will be where the fireworks happen.  

 

 

Volta ao Algarve

14th-18th February

The beautiful countryside of the Southern Portugal is the perfect backdrop to this early season race. It’s 50th edition will certainly be a festival of cycling, with 13 WorldTour teams making an appearance for the 4-day extravaganza.

Remco Evenepoel (winner of the race in 2020 and 2022) will arrive ranked 4th in the world with Mikel Landa in support, whilst Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) will return after winning in 2015 and 2016, alongside Tom Pidcock and Felippo Ganna in a strong INEOS Grenadiers line-up. The supremely talented veteran Brit will be looking to test himself against his rivals in this early season dry run as he gears up to take on both the Giro and the Tour de France. The Road Book Society’s Rider of the Year for 2023, Sepp Kuss kicks off his year there, and we’re sure the winner of the Vuelta (we all know which title he’s most proud of) will put in a strong performance.

Daniel Felipe Martinez is returning to ground he won emphatically on last year in INEOS’s blue and red, with the green and yellow of his new team, Bora-Hansgrohe, who we’re sure will continue their rapid start to 2024.

A number of Portuguese riders will be in attendance, including João Almedia, Oliveira and Morgado (all UAE Team Emirates) and will hope to claim at the very least some stage victories on home turf.  

This is all without mentioning Wout van Aert (Visma-Lease a Bike), who is also on the start list and will be locking heads with Remco on the 22km time-trial in beautiful Albufeira.

Whilst there are a couple of opportunities for sprinters to stretch their legs, alongside the time-trial, it is the hilly stages which will take centre stage, with the race having a total of 14,455 metres of elevation gain across the 5 stages. The pick of the bunch is the final day, from Faro to Malhão twice featuring a 2.5km climb with a 9.9% gradient, which will certainly decide the winner of the General Classification if the previous days’ time-trial hasn’t already.

All in all, this is a smaller race which is definitely worth watching as it is more than likely that one of the Grand Tour winners will start to shine in Portugal.

 

 

Tour of the United Arab Emirates

Men’s Edition

19th – 25th February

The only World Tour race in the Middle East takes place in February in the form of the Tour of the United Arab Emirates. The race is in its 6th edition for the men, and in its 2nd iteration for the women, and whilst it is fast becoming an early season fixture, there are several moral questions surrounding the race.

The women’s race provides the important opportunity to present the women of the peloton as the supremely talented professional athletes they are in a country whose laws surrounding the expression of women and LGBTQ+ groups in particular differ significantly from our own. It is illegal to perform any act of homosexuality (in some cases on penalty of death) whilst women are advised by the Home Office’s travel guidelines to act and dress modestly. It is in this manner, alongside the proliferation of oil conglomerates or authoritarian states acting as sponsors, that the dilemma of what degree of sportswashing is bearable is increasingly brought to the surface in cycling. 

Over the years, the open roads and the beautiful shifting sands of the desert scenery have attracted many of the sport’s biggest stars, with previous winners including Primož Roglič (2019), Adam Yates (2020), Tadej Pogačar (2021 and 2022) and Evenepoel taking last year’s title. Although Yates was racing for the INEOS Grenadiers at the time, UAE Team Emirates’s roster now contains fully half of the holders of the Red Jersey. As usual, the team will be keen to secure a strong showing from their riders on home soil, even without Pogačar’s boyish charm and enthusiasm as he prepares to take on the Giro and the Tour in a potentially career defining year for the Slovenian.

The terrain of the country is perhaps not conducive to a gripping battle for the general classification. With characteristic wide, flat desert roads in searing heat and with only two mountain stages, this is shaping up to be a race for the sprinters to really stretch their legs, as Tim Merlier (Soudal-QuickStep), Juan Sebastián Molano (UAE) and Dylan Groenewegen (Jayco-AlUla) won the sprints last time around.

Merlier and Goenewegen will be returning, joined by Fabio Jakobsen making his debut for new team DSM-Firmenich PostNL after one of the biggest moves of the break, and he will be trying to make a real impact at the sharp end of the race. It’s also a chance for Mark Cavendish and his new look lead out train at Astana-Qazaqstan to build on their work in Columbia, as they aim to assist Cav in breaking his Tour de France stage win record later in the year. Astana-Qazaqstan will try to win stages and iron out any kinks in their method, although the Manx Missile will be wary of getting caught in the chaos certain to ensue on the desert stages. Despite the potential for vicious crosswinds to tear into the peloton and threaten to cause crashes, controlled sprint finishes are par for the course on the UAE Tour, as any disruption caused by the crosswinds, should they appear, will be mitigated by the sprinters’ teams. Whichever rider can hang on to their lead out best and take advantage of unfortunate positioning on their rival’s behalf, can certainly be hopeful of a victory.

For the Red Jersey contenders, it’ll be a case of trying to make a difference on the course’s two climbs and staying aware of threats sneaking into breakaways on the flatter stages. There are a number of riders involved, Luke Plapp (Jayco-Alula) will try to put a poor Tour Down Under behind him with at least a stage victory, whilst a strong UAE Team including Jay Vine and Brandon McNulty will attempt to de-throne Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep) by placing Adam Yates back onto that first spot on the podium. The first serious climb of the race will come on Stage 3, as the riders tackle Jebel Jais, a 20km climb at a steady 5% gradient that kicks up to 7% in the final couple of kilometres after a fairly bland and flat first half to the stage. It was here that last year Einer Rubio took a stage win after attacking late into the climb, Pogačar and Vingegaard have both previously won stages on this climb, and it is perfectly possible that we will see another young rider punch from the bunch and attempt to make a name for themselves.

Stage 7’s iconic Jabel Hafeet will undoubtedly once again serve up the decisive move. The hairpin bends on an open road encourage winds to rip through the peloton, as they tackle the 6.7% average gradient which soars to a tricky 11% in some places. In 2023, Adam Yates launched a record-breaking attack which propelled him from 11th to a podium place and a stage victory, so expect him and Evenepoel to match each other pedal for pedal, each searching for a chink in the other’s armour. UAE Team Emirates tend to dominate this climb and clearly target it, having won the stage every time since 2020.

 

Women’s Edition

8th – 11th February

The 4 stages this year will in all probability play out similarly to the men’s, with an emphasis once again on sprints and with only 1 mountain stage. Elisa Longo Borghini (Lidl-Trek) won last year’s edition on Jebel Hafeet, the country’s highest peak and featuring again this year. Accompanied by her exciting teammate and compatriot Gaia Realini, they powered away from their opposition who had been scattered by crosswinds before the climb. Both riders return this year and will undoubtedly hope to attack in similar fashion. Though, it may be that the younger of the Italian duo gets the nod to ride to victory, given the considerable vitriol engendered by Borghini taking the Red Jersey ahead of her loyal domestique. However, they will have stiff competition in the form of Lotte Kopecky and SD Worx-Protime coming off an unprecedentedly dominant season and hoping to replicate their success.

Charlotte Kool (Team DSM-Firmenich PostNL) was dominant in the sprints last year winning the first and final stages, battling with Lorena Wiebes (SD Worx), and will return in 2024 to fight for more stage victories this time round.

 

Both men’s and women’s editions of the UAE Tour are promising to provide some serious entertainment, and if this race is a favourite of yours, you’re in luck!

We have covered every edition of the UAE Tour since its inception in 2019, and as such you can pick up any previous edition of The Road Book (excluding 2018) and read all about the race at your leisure!

Have a look at our previous editions here: https://theroadbook.co.uk/collections/all-products/products/the-road-book-set-2018-2019-2020-2021-2022

 

 

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

 

Men’s Edition

24th February

For the cycling purists, late February is truly when the racing begins as the Opening Weekend of the Classics season rolls around, beginning with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in Belgium, the first WorldTour level race on European asphalt.

The 79th edition of this one-day race is characteristically Belgian, with 12 punchy hills and 9 cobbled stretches amounting to a brutal course that will create chaos in the peloton, and break some of the riders. One tiny mistake, or one miniscule moment of brilliance could well decide this race.

Jumbo-Visma’s total dominance of the season began on these Flemish roads with Dylan van Baarle’s titanic solo attack in the final 40km, the Dutch rider refusing to be caged as he took his first victory for the Dutch team in his first race despite a spirited late chase launched by Mohorič, De Lie and teammate Christophe Laporte (who completed a 1-2 domination for Jumbo-Visma).

The team, and Van Baarle, return in their iconic yellow and black, albeit under a new sponsor and Visma-Lease a Bike have already named a strong team including the likes of Tiesj Benoot (more on him in a moment), Christophe Laporte, Matteo Jorgenson and Wout van Aert so will be strong favourites to dominate the race once again.

However, their competition is nothing to be sniffed at, Biniam Girmay (Intermarché–Wanty) will be hoping for a bunch sprint to prove his talents, whilst Tom Pidcock’s cyclo-cross skillset will be well suited to the punchy hills and rough cobbles, and former World Champion Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal-Quickstep) has the potential to tear the race limb from limb on a good day. Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious) will also be a threat, having already won a stage of the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana.

The race’s traditional route will be followed, beginning with a cluster of loops to hit all the ‘hellingen’ before the often decisive double punch of the Wall of Geraardsbergen (Muur-Kapelmuur) (15.7km to go) and the Bosberg (11.8km) separates the wheat from the chaff with just 16 km or so to go. The Kapelmuur is particularly brutal, with an average gradient of 9.3% rising to almost 20% at some points, despite only lasting for 475 metres. It was there that Van Baarle really made his advantage stick last year, and it will be on those iconic slopes that the race’s winner will make themselves known.

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is often characterised by brave breakaway moves, and we anticipate that the best organised of these breakaways will once again contain the victor. Though, we wouldn’t write off a bold solo-attack creating chaos and serving up a surprise victor.

 

Women’s Edition

24th February

Slightly shorter than the men’s version, at only 127.1km long, the Women’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad doesn’t pull any of the punches, covering 8 climbs and 5 cobbled sections and facing the same Muur-Kapelmuur and Bosberg double punch as the men to finish.

Again, similarly to the men’s edition, it was the Bosberg which proved decisive as Lotte Kopecky launched into a higher gear on the lower slopes and pulled clear of her breakaway companion Arlenis Sierra (Movistar) and become the first Belgian victor for the women’s race. It was also the opening salvo of SD-Worx’s crushing vice-like grip upon the peloton as they went on to emerge as the new super team on the block. They will be hoping to replicate their success on a similarly punchy course, perfect for opportunistic attacks and the kind of control that only a team with their strength in depth can exert on such a chaotic field.

 

 

Kuurne-Brussel’s-Kuurne

 

25th February

The second half of the opening weekend should be just as much fun as the previous day’s racing. Once again, Jumbo-Visma dominated last season, as Tiesj Benoot took first place and Nathan van Hooydonck second with Mohorič claiming the third podium spot. Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne’s long list of victors has been dominated by the sprinters in recent years, including such names as Mark Cavendish, Fabio Jakobsen and Mads Pedersen.

Although, this was not the case in 2023, with Tiesj Benoot winning from the breakaway group, saving his legs until the last few hundred metres before ghosting up the right-hand side of their quintuplet with a powerful ride that secured victory. The sprinters teams will undoubtedly attempt to reign in such a bold move again, but whether they have the power to compete with the super teams’ efforts to control the two classics, remains to be seen.

 

 

There we have it! February certainly won’t be short of excitement for cycling fans, and we’ll round up all the action at the end of the month, so certainly check back here for our February re-cap.

 

If you want to catch up on the action of the last few years, then check out our bookshop, where we are running a special offer on The Road Book 2022 for our subscribers:

https://theroadbook.co.uk/collections/all-products/products/the-road-book-2022-first-edition

 

Written by Henrik Bassett

Photograph Courtesy of Russ Ellis. 

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