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Chris Froome will be part of a top-drawer line-up as the four-time Tour de France winner gets his second injury comeback rolling when cycling's first major race of the season, the UAE Tour, starts on Sunday.
The reigning Tour de France champion Tadej Pogacar, Quick Step's rising star Joao Almeida and the winner of the UAE race last year, Adam Yates, should feature strongly in what is expected to be a tight struggle in the seven-stage event.
This race was cut short last year due to a Covid-19 outbreak among the teams, making it one of the first international sports events to feel the effects of the encroaching pandemic.
Twelve months on, stringent measures have been put in place to prevent a recurrence, with staff and riders accommodated in different hotels.
Froome's quest to get back to the top has seen him leave Ineos and join Israel Start-Up Nation after he failed to make the cut at the British team for the Tour de France last season.
The Israeli team allowed 35-year-old Froome to undergo intense rehabilitation work from the rest of the squad at a specialised athletic performance centre in Santa Monica, California.
"The rehab process is behind me now," says Froome, who has been doing four two-hour sessions most weeks for the past two months.
"It’s always going to be a weakness," he admitted of the right femur that he broke in two places. "But I'm in the best place possible coming into the season."
- Pogacar the man to beat -
At just 22 the Slovenian all-rounder Pogacar, who produced an outstanding rookie performance to seize victory in France last year, will be the man to watch with his UAE Emirates Team under pressure to deliver on home soil.
"I have spent a lot of time in the UAE lately and I can say that the UAE Tour is a race I would really love to win someday. If it can be this year then that would be great," Pogacar said on Friday.
Pogacar had to settle for second last season after winning the mountain stage.
Defending champion Yates will make his first major outing in Ineos colours after leaving his twin Simon at Orica-GreenEdge, the Australian outfit they both rode for.
Adam has reaped an immediate reward from the move by being named Ineos team leader for the Vuelta a Espana this season.
He will have strong support from recent Tour de Provence winner Ivan Sosa and the pulsating time-trial specialist Filippo Ganna.
Before that Ireland's Sam Bennett and Australia's Caleb Ewan will renew their sprint king rivalry.
The pair both ride for Belgian teams, are neighbours and enjoy a strong friendship as they divvy up most key sprints between them.
Quick-Step rider Bennett won the Tour de France green jersey for sprinters last year, while Ewan of Lotto Soudal won the green jersey at the UAE Tour thanks to two stage wins.
The race is the elite level World Tour's first major event of the 2021 season after the Tour Down Under was cancelled.