Credit: ASO / Pauline Ballet

Caleb Ewan: “I’m confident to go for the wins”
Sprinter ace Caleb Ewan is in Saudi Arabia to lay the foundations for a more successful 2022 season than the previous one that was hampered by his serious crash in Stage 3 of the Tour de France.

“I’m excited to race here,” the Australian said. “It’s a new race for me. It’s always good to discover a new country and this is a good race for me to start with a fair few sprints, especially with [Lotto-Soudal’s recruit] Rüdi[ger Selig] as a new guy in the lead out. It’ll be a good test to see how he’s like and to race together with him. It’s been a long off season because I haven’t raced since the world championship in September. I’m excited to start racing again and to enjoy some warm weather after being in the winter in Europe all that time. My preparation has been going well so I’m confident that I’m in a good enough form here to go for the wins.”

Ewan, 27, is expected to sprint against his two historical rivals from the same generation: UAE Team Emirates’ Fernando Gaviria, also 27, and Dylan Groenewegen, 28. The Dutchman will compete for the first time for Team BikeExchange-Jayco after his late transfer from Jumbo-Visma. Six Italian sprinters will have their say in Stages 1, 3 and 5 likely to end up in a bunch gallop: Alberto Dainese (Team DSM), Davide Cimolai (Cofidis), Niccolo Bonifazio (TotalEnergies), Jakub Mareczko (Alpecin-Fenix), Davide Ballerini (Qick Step-Alpha Vinyl) and Jonathan Milan (Bahrain Victorious) who takes over as a sprinter from overall defending champion Phil Bauhaus.

Rui Costa to pursue his conquest of the Middle East
Except for the road national championship of Portugal in August 2020, the last win of Rui Costa was Stage 1 of the inaugural Saudi Tour in Jaww two years ago. He went on to finishing third overall behind sprinters Phil Bauhaus and Nacer Bouhanni. “Some of my best results in the past few years have been obtained in the Middle East and I hope to continue this way”, said the 2013 world champion who won the Abu Dhabi Tour and finished second overall in the Tour of Oman in 2017, his first year under the colours of the United Arab Emirates. UAE Team Emirates don’t hide their ambition to win the 2022 Saudi Tour. Lennard Kämna and Matteo Fabbro (Bora-Hansgrohe), Andrea Bagioli (Quick Step-Alpha Vinyl), Santiago Buitrago (Bahrain Victorious) and Victor De La Parte (TotalEnergies) are among the other pre-race favourites on a race that is set to be decided in the steep climb leading to the Skyviews of Harrat Uwayrid on Stage 4 after a first taste of climbing on Stage 2 to Abu Rakha.

The first stage race of Belgian prodigy Cian Uijtdebroeks
Some of the 96 riders expected to line up for Stage 1 in Winter Park have been impressed by the set-up of the teams presentation in front of the Elephant Rock of AlUla as top professional cycling is new to them. Newcomers at Pro Continental level like Dutchman Sjoerd Bax with Alpecin-Fenix and Denmark’s Anthon Charmig from Uno-X who showed their potential in hilly stage races last year, as well as WorldTour rookie Jarrad Drizners from Australia, now with Lotto-Soudal, French mountain biker Axel Zingle who joined Cofidis, and UAE Team Emirates surprise recruit Felix Gross of Germany can take the opportunity of the Saudi Tour to impress but Cian Uijtdebroeks will be the youngster under the spotlight. Aged 18, the Belgian prodigy is often touted as the next Remco Evenepoel. On his first professional race last week, he made the breakaway at Challenge Mallorca, showing obvious signs of form at the beginning of the season.

“My first year is a learning process so my program has been built around short stage races that suit my characteristics as a climber,” said the winner of the 2021 La Classique des Alpes Juniors. The Saudi Tour has actually replaced races in Spain initially on his schedule when the staff of Bora-Hansgrohe realized the course around AlUla was tailor-made for him.

Terengganu Polygon to defend its prestige in Asia
Being the first team on the Asia Tour ranking in 2021, Malaysian outfit Terengganu Polygon, locally known as TSG, earned a logical invitation to the Saudi Tour for the second time.

“We are honoured to be invited once again,” said sport director Nasiruddin Wan Idrus. “Our debut was in 2020 before the pandemic hit. Even though our country had strict regulations on travelling during the pandemic, we have managed to race abroad and perform in 2021. We had a great outing at Velo Alanya and Velo Erciyes road series in Turkey, where Harrif Saleh won Grand Prix Manavgat, two wins with Carlos Quintero, one with Jambaljamts Sainbayar and numerous podiums in Turkey and Rwanda. We have worked hard last year to be the top ranked team in the UCI Asia Tour, and since the team’s inception in 2011.”

Sainbayar who is from Mongolia ended the 2021 campaign of TSG in December by winning the Tour of Thailand overall, one of the rare international races that have been organised in Asia in the past two years. Malaysian sprinter Harrif Saleh is their other card to play for the bunch sprints in which they aim at a top 3 result to maintain their prestige as Asia’s number one cycling team.

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