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  1. Lotto Soudal aiming for Abu Dhabi Tour stage wins

    Belgian WorldTour team Lotto Soudal is hunting stage wins at the Abu Dhabi Tour this week. André Greipel leads the sprint ambitions with the German aiming to add to his Tour Down Under stage wins last month.

    Although the team is banking on the opening three stages of success, Sander Armée and Bjorg Lambrecht will be given the opportunity for success on the final day climb up Jabel Hafeet.

    "We really want to win a stage at Abu Dhabi Tour this week and we have most chance on the first three days, all sprint stages," said sports director Mario Aerts.


    The sprint field at the WorldTour Abu Dhabi Tour is world class in 2018 and Aerts is under no illusion of the challenge ahead. However, with a confident squad assembled in the Persian Gulf, Aerts believe the team can add to its haul of six wins thus far this season.

    "André Greipel will have to face some strong opponents, because the list of top sprinters is long: Mark Cavendish, Caleb Ewan, Marcel Kittel, Alexander Kristoff and Elia Viviani. His two stage wins at Tour Down Under gave André a lot of confidence and he is surrounded by a good team, with experienced riders such as Adam Hansen and Marcel Sieberg."

    Due the number of teams with sprint ambitions, Aerts added that he believes there will be cooperation in controlling the stages and there will be three clear chances for wins with Greipel.

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  2. Frame focused on growth and development with Trek-Segafredo

    A former world champion in the team pursuit on the track, Alex Frame has moved out of the velodrome and is firmly focused on making his mark in the WorldTour with Trek-Segafredo.

    The 23-year-old New Zealander was signed up to the team from 2018 after two strong seasons on the JLT–Condor squad that included a number of wins at 2.2 level.

    With Trek-Segafredo starting its 2018 season in Australia with the Tour Down Under, Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and Herald Sun Tour, it was little surprise that Frame was selected for all three events to start his Trek-Segafrdo career considering the ease of flying across from New Zealand.


    The 15 race days provided Frame with opportunity to trial new roles and test his capabilities at the top level of the sport. Learning the tricks of the trade front of mind for the Kiwi. Frame explaining to Cyclingnewsthat he never felt "out of my depth or anything" but suffered in the heat of the Australian summer.

    "The level, it is not too much harder or faster than some races that I have done in the past. Even Tour Down Under was a pretty low-key race for some of the hitters," Frame told Cyclingnews. "I want to get used to it and would love to be competitive, even this year, in Europe racing against the same guys."

    Although Frame has several seasons of racing under his belt, he is keen to learn as much as possible in 2018 and ensure his transition into the WorldTour ranks is as smooth as possible. That doesn't mean Frame won't take the opportunity to pursue his personal ambitions should the moment arise.

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  3. Barnes, Niewiadoma lead Canyon-SRAM in Setmana Ciclista Valenciana

    The European racing season will get underway at the UCI 2.2 Setmana Ciclista Valenciana from February 22-25 in Spain. Canyon-SRAM are fresh off of training camp in the area and show they aim to start strong by sending a powerful, well-rounded team to the hilly four-day opener.

    Newcomer Kasia Niewiadoma, who signed a three-year deal with the team after spending five seasons with Marianne Vos' Dutch squad, will line up in Rotova for the start of stage 1 in her new kit. She will likely be a key player on the climbs while teammate Hannah Barnes will take on the sprints.

    The roster also includes Alena Amialiusik, Pauline Ferrand-Prévot and Christa Riffel. The team is complete with 2017 Zwift Academy winner Tanja Erath.


    "We've had a nice training camp here in Spain for two weeks, and I think everyone is really ready to race now," Barnes said.

    Setmana Ciclista Valenciana, in its second year, begins in Rotova with 118km that will feature Alto de Barxeta (6.2km at 3.1 per cent) and the Alto de Barx (6km at 5.6 per cent) before finishing in Gandia. The second stage will start in Castello and climb the Desert of Les Palmes (7.5km at 5.1 per cent) and end in Vila-Real.

    Stage 3, from Sagunt to Valencia, will be 137km with a climb to L'Oronet (5.5km at 5 per cent per cent) and the final stage in Benidorm will offer three laps of a circuit that includes the climb over Alto Finestrat (7km at 4.7 per cent), for 118km in total.

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  4. Gilbert aims for record third Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

    Quick-Step Floors will head into the opening Belgian weekend with strong but flexible rosters for Saturday's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Sunday's Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.

    The Belgian team will kick off its Classics effort backing up Philippe Gilbert's attempt to win Omloop for the third time, a result that would put him on equal footing with four other riders who have also won the race three times. Gilbert last won the race in 2006 and 2008, but the 35-year-old has seen a resurgence since returning to Quick-Step last year, winning the Tour of Flanders and Amstel Gold among other races.

    Also in Gilbert's favour is the change to the course for this year's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, which will use much of what used to be the Tour of Flanders finale: the Tenbosse, Muur van Geraardsbergen, and Bosberg all come in the final 27km of the 196.2km race.


    "It will be interesting to ride the new Omloop finale, similar with the one Flanders had until 2011," said Quick-Step Floors director Tom Steels.

    "The new finale is a demanding one, and we'll just see if it will lead to an open race or make the riders take a more defensive approach. We will be there with many cards, strong guys who have shown a good form these past few weeks; some of them can go from afar, while others can make use of their speed in case it comes down to a small group sprinting for the win. We are confident and really looking forward to these races."

    Gilbert, Dries Devenyns and Zdenek Stybar will be joined in the Omloop by Fernando Gaviria, Iljo Keisse, Yves Lampaert and Niki Terpstra, who will also race the next day in Kuurne with Tim Declercq, Maximiliano Richeze and Florian Sénéchal. Sunday's roster could change depending on what happens on Saturday, however, as the team warned in its roster announcement.

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  5. Kittel: We saw where our mistakes were in Dubai

    Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin) was seated alongside Elia Viviani at the top table during the pre-race press conference at the Abu Dhabi Tour on Tuesday, but the German resisted the temptation to inquire after his old lead-out train at Quick-Step Floors as they waited for proceedings to begin.

    Then again, there was hardly much need. Viviani was expertly delivered by the men in blue to two stage wins and overall victory at the recent Dubai Tour, while, in the same race, Kittel and his Katusha-Alpecin guard were still straightening out some kinks in their chain. Third place on stage 3 was his best showing during a frustrating five days that began with the ill portent of a mechanical problem during the opening sprint.

    Kittel has been racing and winning long enough to realise that victories will come in due course, and he has been dealing with the press long enough to understand that this early spot of trial and error will generate its share of headlines. No sprinter likes to dwell on defeats, but Kittel accepts the inevitable questions on the early teething troubles with good grace.


    "As a team we showed a really good team spirit in Dubai. We saw where our mistakes were and what we have to do better in the future and that's what we'll work on now, in this race and in the coming weeks," Kittel said. "In the end, it was a good race for us. We were there but we couldn't get that victory so that's also a goal for Abu Dhabi now, to do better and keep developing."

    When Kittel wheeled across the line in sixth place on the final stage of the Dubai Tour, mind, he may briefly have considered the prospect of signing up as a late entry to the Tour of Oman. Instead, he had to endure a little over a week of waiting for another chance to open his account as a Katusha-Alpecin rider. Rather than stew on the disappointment, Kittel and Katusha held a post-race debrief in Dubai that evening, before going their separate ways to train for the Abu Dhabi Tour.

    "We finished the race, and then we had a meeting to talk about the race and the last week," Kittel said. "I think that's always important because you come out of the event with a good feeling after looking back at what was good, what was bad and what you want to do better. That way, you have a plan and you can go into the next race and just be confident again. And for us that's the most important thing."

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