The inaugural Abu Dhabi Tour has certainly attracted a glittering lineup of cycling royalty. The new four-day race, run by Giro d'Italia organiser RCS, fills the slot left by the Tour of Beijing and has been more successful than the Chinese race in attracting the big names of the peloton.
The race is likely to take a similar course to that of the Tour of Qatar, with crosswinds and desert heat playing a key role in the three sprint stages - hence the heavy presence of sprinters and Classics strongmen.
However, the 142km Stage 3 has a sting in the tail, with a 7km climb at an average of 7 per cent, with ramps of 12 per cent. This is likely to decide the overall result.
The main attraction is, of course, newly crowned World Champion Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), who is making his debut in the rainbow jersey (avec white shorts). Vincenzo Nibali, Fabio Aru, Tom Boonen, Philippe Gibert and Alejandro Valverde are also amongst those taking to the start line.
However, there's also a solid Australian presence at the desert race. Antipodean eyes are likely to be on World Champs silver medallist Michael Matthews, who headlines the Orica-GREENEDGE team alongisde Vuelta revelation Esteban Chaves and Classics veteran Mat Hayman.
Sport director Matt White says the goal is a general classification result with Chaves, but that Matthews can expect plenty of support in the race's three sprint finishes.
“We will give support to Michael in the finals but it’s going to be a real challenge with the quality of sprinters lining up for the inaugural edition of this Tour,” White said.
“Mat Hayman and Jens Keukeleire will have crucial roles in trying to support this ambition, particularly if the wind picks up. That being said, in small teams of six, everyone has a role to play.”
Matt Goss also makes an appearance in a sprinter-heavy MTN-Qhubeka team. Goss's future at the team is uncertain, with no word on whether he will remain with the rapdily transforming squad - soon to become Team Dimension Data next year.
Also worth looking to make a difference in the crosswinds is a strong team of six Aussies sent by Drapac Pro Cycling, namely Graeme Brown, Brendan Canty, William Clarke, Brenton Jones, Travis Meyer and Adam Phelan. Stagiaire Canty is noted as a solid climber in his native Victoria, so could also feature on Stage 3 - if the heat doesn't take too much of a toll.
The Tour of Abu Dhabu begins on Thursday 8 October, concluding on the Yas Marina Formula 1 circuit on Sunday 11 October.