Dubai - All eyes will be on Chris Froome on Sunday as the four-time Tour de France champion returns to the peloton in the UAE Tour for the first time since an accident almost ended his career.
The 35-year-old Team Ineos star suffered multiple fractures and spent months in rehabilitation after a gust of wind hurtled him into a wall at 50 kilometres an hour during a recon at the Criterium du Dauphine in June last year.
That has delayed by 12 months his assault on a record-equalling fifth Tour de France crown, a journey that begins with a tough week in the Dubai desert.
"The year's gone incredibly well so far but having said that I do still need to manage expectations," he told his Team Ineos website on Friday.
"I'm still quite a way off where I was at the Dauphine before the crash. It's going to take me a while to get back to that shape."
"It will be a huge relief just to be back in the peloton again," he said. "It feels like I've been given a second chance to come back to pro racing after a crash like that. I'm definitely not taking that for granted."
Froome joins a high-class field featuring last year's runner-up Alexandro Valverde (Movistar), Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), and an Ineos squad with Rohan Dennis and in-form Eddie Dunbar.
UAE Team Emirates can hope for a bold showing from their young Slovenian Tadej Pogacar, third in the Vuelta a Espana, and Italian road champion Davide Formolo.
A strong contingent of sprinters eyeing potentially four or five speed finishes includes Pascal Ackerman, Arnaud Demare, Sam Bennett, Fernando Gaviria, Mark Cavendish, Caleb Ewan and Dylan Groenewegen.
With no opening time trial, the Tour starts with a 158km ride from The Pointe to Dubai Silicon Oasis.
The second stage serves up the first uphill battle at the Hatta Dam with the first summit finish on Tuesday at Jebel Hafeet.
Stage four is set up for the sprinters before the second summit finish at Jebel Hafeet with the race concluding with two long flat sprinter-friendly rides.
Froome believes Dubai is an ideal place to resume his day job.
"It should be a good place for me to test out my legs and get back in the peloton again.
"Hopefully I can do a job for the team and we can try and get the best result possible."