Mark Cavendish defends Dubai crown with new team

Friday 29/01/2016
2016 edition is set to produce several sprint showdowns

DUBAI - Defending Dubai Tour champion Mark Cavendish goes into the 2016 edition, which starts on Wednesday, looking for his first win since joining South African team Dimension Data.

The Briton won the overall title last year while still with Etixx Quick-Step thanks to victories on the first and fourth stages.

Cavendish left Quick-Step at the end of last season to join the first African cycling team to take part in the Tour de France, MTN-Qhubeka, who have since been renamed Dimension Data.

The 30-year-old, who has won 44 stages on Grand Tours, also took Etixx team-mates Mark Renshaw and Bernhard Eisel with him to his new outfit.

Ahead of the race, Eisel said the onus was on his new team to deliver a stage win for Cavendish. "The pressure is on us," the Austrian said.

This is the third time the Dubai Tour has been held, and it will have by far its most impressive start-list so far.

Cavendish will have to battle with the likes of German Marcel Kittel and Italians Elia Viviani, Andrea Guardini and Sacha Modolo if he is to get off the mark for the season.

"This is a great opportunity for us to work on getting our lead-out train in good order," said Kittel, who won three stages in Dubai during the maiden staging in 2014 and has taken Cavendish's place as Quick-Step's main sprinter.

It is not only the sprinters who are under the microscope this week though.

Swiss veteran Fabian Cancellara, German time-trial specialist Tony Martin, former world road race champion Philippe Gilbert of Belgium and 2012 Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins will all be taking part.

It is a rare road outing for 35-year-old Brit Wiggins as the four-time Olympic gold medallist will focus on the track this year ahead of the Rio de Janeiro Games.

But with bonus seconds on offer for stage victories, Manxman Cavendish will still fancy his chances of holding onto the blue jersey that goes to the winner of the General Classification.