Interview: Yousif Mirza on life-changing first year with UAE Team Emirates

Matt Jones 4/12/2017
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Reflecting on the year that “changed my whole life”, Yousif Mirza believes he has proved he belongs on the biggest stage and is determined to reach cycling’s top level.

The UAE Team Emirates rider finished second behind Dimension Data’s Mark Cavendish at the inaugural Abu Dhabi to Al Ain Classic in a time of 4:31:49.

The 29-year-old finished inches behind sprint king Cavendish and was joined on the podium by Italian teammate Roberto Ferrari, who finished third, with fellow UAE Team Emirates rider Manuele Mori also close behind in a field of 200.

Mirza became the first Emirati to ride for a UCI WorldTour team in 2017, a campaign in which he gained relative success. He won the UAE National Road Championship for a fourth straight year and also claimed victory in the individual time trial.

He finished 13th in the General Classification at February’s Dubai Tour, while outside the UAE he finished second in the road race at the Asian Cycling Championships in Bahrain, was 14th at June’s Hammer Sportzone Limburg in the Netherlands and finished 18th on the opening stage of the Colorado Classic in August.

“I am happy with my 2017 season, sure. And I have more to do,” said Mirza, who feels he acclimatised to the higher echelon of cycling as the season wore on.

“It is my first year as a professional. At the start of the season I was a little bit scared, I didn’t know how to deal with the situation but this year will be my second and it will be different, for sure. I will do my best to reach the top level in cycling.

“I now have one year in the team. It is one year that has changed my whole life. You have to do a lot of things, not just training and racing, it is the professional level, but it has been a good experience for me and I try my best, always.”

Mirza will start his 2018 season in Argentina before heading home to compete at the Dubai Tour from February 6-10 and the Abu Dhabi Tour from February 21-25.

With the Abu Dhabi Tour having attained WorldTour status from the UCI this year, the Dubai Tour growing in popularity and the inaugural staging of the Abu Dhabi to Al Ain Classic being held on the same day the UAE celebrated its 46th National Day, Mirza is excited to be playing a part in a boom time for cycling in the country.

“It is a good experience, I am proud to represent my team on National Day,” said the man who joined UAE Team Emirates after his former side Al Nasr Pro Cycling Team–Dubai disbanded at the end of 2016.

“We are tired after a long season, but we have to do this. We have an opportunity on the team because the race is in our country. It’s National Day and I wore No46 on my jersey. It is a proud day for me, especially being an Emirati.

“There was no chance I was missing it. Even with a broken leg I would have wanted to ride. It’s the first time they have held the race and I think next year it will be a UCI event. They had anti-doping control and invited pro riders. It was really nice for the first year.

“The Abu Dhabi Tour is now a WorldTour race so it’s more important. And we would be proud to add one more event in our country. You can see cycling improving year by year, even day by day. It is a sport growing very fast.”

The race, the first of its kind in Abu Dhabi, was hosted by Abu Dhabi Cycling Club and under the patronage of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council.

The race started on the Corniche and ended in the Garden City 175km later, and Mirza congratulated 32-year-old Cavendish, a winner of 30 individual Tour de France stages, on victory.

“Mark was really quick at the finish. We had a really great race with each other. He is always fast and I congratulate him on first place,” said Mirza.

“We were second and third so it was good. Mark and all the riders were happy on these roads. It was good weather, we were lucky as when we were driving back from Al Ain it was raining.

“It was quite windy and on the flat that can affect the outcome of the race. The quality was really high and all the top professionals finished in the main group.”

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Former road world champion Mark Cavendish will be the biggest draw.

As part of the 46th National Day celebrations, this weekend sees the inaugural Abu Dhabi-Al Ain Classic take place with the 175km race, starting at the ADNOC HQ building on the Corniche, Abu Dhabi and finishing in the stunning surroundings of Al Jahili Park, Al Ain on Sunday 3rd December.

The Race will see over 100 amateur and professional cyclists take part with professional cyclists in the peloton including former road world champion Mark Cavendish, UCI Pro Tour Lotto-Soudal rider Adam Hansen as well as 3 of UAE Team Emirates decorated cyclists: Roberto Ferrari, Manuele Mori and Emirati cycling star Yousif Mirza.

The ceremonial start will take place from the Corniche in front of the Adnoc Headquarters before officially starting the race on Sheikh Khalifa Bridge.

The first section of the race follows the Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Highway, passing by Yas Island then onto the Al Reef and Al Falah areas. The peloton then join the E20 towards Sweihan and Nahel taking the E95 towards Al Ain finishing in the stunning surroundings of Al Jahili Park.

Commenting on the weekend’s race, His Excellency Dr. Mugheer Khamis Al Khaili, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Cycling Club said: “We are very much looking forward to the inaugural Abu Dhabi Al Ain Classic. We hope that this can become one of the UAE’s great races in time and we are delighted to see the quality of both professional and amateur entries.

“The Classic and the Family Cycling Festival are great ways for Abu Dhabi Cycling Club to be a part of the UAE’s 46th National Day celebrations and we wish all cyclists in both events a successful and safe rides.”

UAE Team Emirates rider Yousif Mirza added: “It is an honour to be cycling in this new race in Abu Dhabi on National Day weekend. I am really looking forward to racing in the Classic against fellow pros as well as many amateur cyclists from the local community.”

Dr Ahmed Bin Ali, Group Senior Vice President of Platinum Partner Etisalat, said: “We are thrilled to partner on the inaugural cycling event, the Abu Dhabi – Al Ain Classic. It’s very exciting to be involved in this first of its kind cycling event in the UAE and we hope that this will help grow the sport locally and help promote healthy lifestyles.”

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Mark Cavendish to race in inaugural Abu Dhabi to Al Ain Classic

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Mark Cavendish is also the event's ambassador.

Former road world champion Mark Cavendish will compete in the first edition of the Abu Dhabi to Al Ain Classic.

The event, which will begin in Abu Dhabi on Sunday December 3rd 2017, will see 200 riders feature in the 180km race.

Hosted by Abu Dhabi Cycling Club and under the patronage of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, the exciting new Classic is the first of its kind to take place in the UAE and pays homage to the great classic races of Europe.

Dr. Mugheer Khamis Al Khaili, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Cycling Club, said: “We’re delighted that Abu Dhabi Cycling Club’s first event will be the Abu Dhabi – Al Ain Classic. Our riders are excited to compete alongside some of the best in the world and it’s a fantastic development for cycling in the UAE. The course will provide everyone with a unique challenge between both cities.”

Cavendish, who also has 30 Tour de France stage wins to his name, is the event ambassador and will be one of several notable international riders in the peloton that will work its way from Abu Dhabi to Al Ain.

The 32-year-old commented: “I’m really looking forward to playing a part in the first Abu Dhabi to Al Ain Classic. The event is a fantastic new initiative within cycling and it’s a privilege to be involved.”

Aref Hamad Al Awani, General Secretary of Abu Dhabi Sports Council said: “The Abu Dhabi to Al Ain Classic is a significant new race for us. Not only will it bring internationally recognised athletes to compete in Abu Dhabi, but also provide a development platform for our own riders and particularly Abu Dhabi Cycling Club.

Cavendish has 34 Tour De France stage wins to his name.

Cavendish has 34 Tour De France stage wins to his name.

“We’re delighted that the event will be hosted by Mark Cavendish, who is a great ambassador for both his sport and our Emirate. The combination of the Classic and the Daman ActiveLife Family Cycling Festival is unique and ADSC are thrilled that these new events will be attractive to all levels of cyclists.”

The event will incorporate the Daman ActiveLife Family Cycling Festival, which will take place at the finish of the Classic in Al Ain. The festival will work to promote health and fitness by providing families with the opportunity to cycle together on 800m circuits for free.

The Classic is strictly limited to 200 places by invitation only, but riders can register their interest online. To find out more information please visit: www.cyclealain.com

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