UAE Team Emirates’ rider Anass Ait el Abdia sealed the General Classification title at the tenth and final stage of the Tour Du Maroc on Monday.
The Moroccan national champion took the win thanks, primarily, to his victory in the fourth stage – Houed Laou-El Hoceima.
The victory is the fourth of his career, following on from the 2016 National Championships, Tour du Prince 2015, and the Taghir stage of the Tour du Maroc 2014.
“I’m happy and proud, this victory comes at an important moment in my career,” said the 24-year-old who heads to the Gp Citta di Lugano and the Tour of Slovenia next. “I participated in the Tour Du Maroc as part of the Moroccan National Team and I am happy to have been able to finish with such a great result.
“Crossing the line at the Tour du Maroc as the overall leader is a feeling I cannot describe, but it is a very good feeling. I’m now looking forward to my upcoming races.”
The victory also delighted UAE Team Emirates’ Team Manager, Carlo Saronni.
“We are very proud of Anass and would like to congratulate him and the Moroccan National Team on this home win,” said Saronni.
“They were impressive throughout the race and it’s great that they were able to have success at the Tour du Maroc.”
UAE Team Emirates, led by in-form Portuguese rider Rui Costa, is heading to the first of the season’s three Ardennes Classics – the Amstel Gold Race – this Sunday, with hopes of a podium place firmly in mind.
Costa, who earlier this season won the overall General Classification title at his team’s home race – the Abu Dhabi Tour – is aiming to improve on his previous best at the Amstel Gold Race.
That was a fourth place finish in 2015 and this year, Costa is hoping to break into the top-three.
“My participation on Sunday will mark the eighth time for me back at the Amstel Gold Race,” he said. “This is a race I like and look forward to. I know that it’s going to be super tough and even though I’ve got good form, I know that I’ll have to have a really good day.
“You need to manage the way you expend your energy and effort in order to prepare yourself to arrive at the hills in the best position and form.
“I was fourth in 2015, so I know I can contend in this race and I could aim for a breakaway win.
“The last passage on the Cauberg used to be the most important part of the race, however this year the course has been changed and the last climb will be Bemelerberg cresting at 7.3 kilometres making it a bit more suited for fast riders like Ben swift and Diego Ulissi who now have more of a chance than in the past.”
Taking place in the south of the Netherlands, in the region of Maastricht, the Amstel Gold Race is a unique race which sees the riders faced with a multitude of mostly short, but often brutally steep, climbs.
The 52nd edition of the race will be the 16th stop on the UCI World Tour this year, and will feature 259.7 kilometers of narrow roads, dozens of hills and relentless twists and turns.
The 2017 route takes in 35 hills, yet unlike in previous editions, the hard-hitting Cauberg is no longer the final climb, making the Dutch race even more uncertain than usual.
Joining former World Champion Costa in the hunt for glory on Sunday will be his UAE Team Emirates team-mate, British sprint sensation Ben Swift who believes that the unusual course this year could play to his advantage.
“The new final part of the course presents an opportunity for me and for other riders with similar strengths, and so Amstel Gold Race could be a new and interesting challenge for me,” said Swift. “It is always very difficult to predict how this race will pan out and a challenge to be amongst the front group in the final portion of the race.”
Riding alongside Rui Costa and Ben Swift at the Amstel Gold Race, the UAE Team Emirates line-up is completed by Diego Ulissi, Matteo Bono, Marco Marcato, Matej Mohoric, Manuele Mori and Simone Petilli.
UAE Team Emirates rider Louis Meintjes finished in sixth place overall at Vuelta al Pais Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country).
The 25-year-old rode brilliantly to finish 14th place in Saturday’s sixth and final stage – and ended up bagging a top-six finish in the General Classification.
Alejandro Valverde of Spain won the Tour outright, adding to his victories in Andalusia and Catalonia already this season.
Speaking after the race, Meintjes said his top-10 finish gives him much needed confidence after recent mixed results in the Volta a Catalunya and Abu Dhabi Tour.
“It has been a very good week. I’ve come back to live the feelings of being in the front of the races,” said Meintjes.
“It is an important result and, moreover, it gives me morale and important feedback in view of the next races.”
The South African’s sixth-place finish represents his biggest result to date with the UAE team since joining from Team Dimension Data at the end of last season.
Sports director Orlando Maini said: “Meintjes was constant during the whole week and the sixth place is a proper prize for him, for his good form and for the whole team.”
“We were constantly every day in the top 10. This means that our general level of competitiveness was very good and, most importantly, that we had a very good team spirit.
“It was very difficult to be in the top 10 of the final general classification and we achieved this goal.”
Diego Ulissi sealed a formidable eighth place finish in the final stage individual time trial, 52 seconds behind winner Roglic.
“The result in the time trial makes me happy and I’m confident for the next races,” said Ulissi.
Two races in Belgium follow over the next few weeks with the Fleche Wallone taking place on April 19 and the Liege-Bastogne-Liege on April 23.