The world's top riders are lapping up the excitement and challenge of cycling on unchartered territory by giving a thumbs up for the Dubai Tour 2014 even before the race is flagged off at the World Trade Centre on Wednesday February 5 at 1pm.
The epoch-making sporting event which has attracted 16 teams, including two from the host nation, will begin with the mouth-watering 10km Individual Time Trial named the 'Downtown Stage' which is a race against the clock, where each rider starts the competition at different times and winner is the one who scores the lowest time on the route.
"When we received the proposal for the Dubai Tour, we said, 'Why not?' After all, Dubai hosts many world class events, and cycling would be a prestigious addition to the list. Dubai has a long tradition of organising major events, and the Dubai Tour is one more sign that the world trusts Dubai," said Saeed Hareb, Chairman of the Dubai Tour higher Committee at a pre-event press conference at the Dubai World Trade Centre on Tuesday.
UAE national team captain Yousef Mohamed Mirza was grateful to the government of Dubai for making it happen.
"Over the last two years, cycling has really grown here. The government has seen what is happening in cycling, and has provided us with support. For the United Arab Emirates national team, this is a journey into the unknown. We really don't know how we will do: but riding with the professionals will be a wonderful learning experience," said Mirza who is ranked No.1 in Asia.
"It is our first time racing with professionals. We will race without pressure. We want to see our standard. We are in good shape and we are very proud to race with these professional riders," said the 24 year-old whose best achievement is a fourth place in the Asian Championships.
The UAE team trained in Portugal for a month as preparations for the Dubai Tour.
"My goal is to show the world that UAE have cycling. I will not stop. If we start want to finissh," said Mirza who dreams of turning professional which he believes is not impossible.
He will be racing against two of his favourites Tony Martin and Mark Cavendish during the Dubai Tour which is being hailed for the quality of riders it has attracted.
"Dubai is a new territory for professional cycling. (Peter) Sagan is here, (Fabian) Cancellara is here: the big names. So from Day One, the Dubai Tour looks like it is a great success," said reigning Giro d'Italia champion Vincenzo Nibali of Astana Pro Team.
"I have had a few days rest at home after an small accident I had in Argentina. I'm here looking for rhythm. there is a time trial, where I will try to do well, and otherwise it is a race for sprinters, and we have two in (Jacopo) Guarnieri and (Andrea) Guardini," he said.
"It's exciting to have Mark Renshaw and Alessandro Petacchi riding for me. Together with Tony Martin, they make a formidable train. Hopefully Tony Martin will win the time trial, then there should be three sprint stages. With a strong and motivated team, we'll be targeting all of them," said Mark Cavendish, the British King of Sprints representing Omega Pharma - Quick Step team.
Cavendish's team mate Tony Martin, the three-times and reigning World Time Trial Champion, said: "I've come here to try to win this race, although it isn't going to be simple: the crosswinds could play a decisive role, and first, I'll have to ride a really good time trial."
Reigning Road Race world champion Alberto Rui Costa is looking forward to the challenge.
"This is my first time in Dubai. I really wanted to get to know the place. It is very different to what I'm used to. The race doesn't really suit my characteristics, but I'll take any opportunity that arises," he said.
Marcel Kittel of Team Giant - Shimano is overwhelmed by the competition and feels the form book could be turned upside down.
"I've already been here a few days, and I've really enjoyed myself so far. I was surprised to find so many cyclists. They have taken us around and shown us the training routes. The Dubai skyline is amazing when you see it from the desert. I don't think that sprint finishes are guaranteed: there is plenty of wind out there, and it could dictate otherwise," he said.
Four times World Time Trial Champion Fabian Cancellara of Trek Factory Racing welcomed the new addition to the world cycling calendar.
"It is important to promote cycling, not just as a sport but as a healthy activity. Many of my colleagues have already been competing in sunny Australia and Argentina. I've been in Switzerland all this time, so it is good to come here and ride in the heat," he said.
The world's No.1 rider José Joaquin Rodríguez is looking to gain some form at the beginning of the season.
"It's not really a race for climbers like me, and none of us are riding at 100 per cent yet, but coming to this wonderful location is perfect for moving a little closer to top form, in this great weather," he said.
Alejandro Valverde: "I've come here, in part, to get to know Dubai, and because it is important to spread professional cycling around the world, especially in such fascinating places. I've also come to enjoy riding on good roads and in good weather."
The Dubai Tour will continue on Thursday February 6 with the 121km 'Sport Stage' which will take in Palm Jumeirah.
The 162km third stage called Nature Stage will be a medium mountain stage across Hatta before the finishing with a 124km called the Old Dubai Stage.
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