Rui Costa believes he'll benefit from UAE Team Emirates' revamped roster ahead of Abu Dhabi Tour

Jay Asser 19/02/2018
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Rui Costa took home the title in the 2017 Abu Dhabi Tour.

A repeat at the Abu Dhabi Tour may not be in the cards for Rui Costa, but the UAE Team Emirates rider is happy to share the load with his new team-mates.

Costa, who claimed the title in the capital last year, will be joined by top names Fabio Aru and Alexander Kristoff in the squad at this year’s Abu Dhabi Tour.

One way to look at the strengthened UAE Team Emirates roster is to assume a slide down the totem pole for Costa, but the Portuguese cyclist views the revamped side as a benefit to him – both as a challenge and in the form of help.

“For sure I’m really motivated. I’m motivated to push myself at the top, like I’ve always done, but for sure this year because my team-mates are really strong,” Costa told Sport360°.

“But it’s better for me because you never know in the race, sometimes you crash or whatever reason, having two leaders and leaders who can win several stages in races this season, there’s less stress for everybody. The pressure was just on my shoulders a lot before and now I have to share this pressure with several riders.”

Costa will also have a tougher time defending his title in Abu Dhabi due to his relative lack of fitness and the addition of a time trial on the fourth stage.

“I’m not in the same shape or same condition as last year because I was sick for one week when I came back from Australia and I lost several days of training,” Costa said. “After Oman, I’m going up and for sure until the penultimate stage, the time trial, I think I can do a good race. If I’m front, my team-mates will work with me and if they’re in front, I’ll work with them.”

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Alexander Kristoff's first UAE Team Emirates win builds confidence ahead of Abu Dhabi Tour

Jay Asser 19/02/2018
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Alexander Kristoff crosses in first at the sixth stage of the Tour of Oman.

Alexander Kristoff got the monkey of his back in the Tour of Oman, just in time before leaving for Abu Dhabi where wins will be difficult to come by for the sprinter.

After falling agonisingly short on several stages of the Dubai Tour, Kristoff finally stamped his maiden victory with UAE Team Emirates on stage six in Oman on Sunday.

The Norwegian was satisfied to see everything come together in a race after being limited to two fourth and two seventh-place finishes in Dubai.

“It’s always nice to get the first win, every year,” Kristoff told Sport360°.

“In the Tour of Dubai, we had not trained together so much for the sprints so it was difficult and we didn’t manage to time it correct, so I didn’t get any super good results. So it was nice that we finally came really good together and yesterday the team did really perfect work.

“We showed if we do things correctly, we can win sprints. It was a nice team victory.”

Leaving Dubai empty-handed was surely a disappointment for UAE Team Emirates and likely means added pressure on the side to come away with more success in the capital.

Kristoff, however, recognises his role in the Abu Dhabi Tour will be different to the one he played in Dubai.

With Abu Dhabi featuring a summit finish that could once again decide the general classification as it did last year, Kristoff will support his climber team-mates Fabio Aru, who will make his UAE Team Emirates debut, and Rui Costa, the reigning champion.

“Now that we managed to get a win in Oman, that took a little bit of pressure off. But for sure, we are on home ground and the lineup we have is very good,” Kristoff said.

“But it’s not maybe so good for the sprints and I think the main goal for the team is the GC. With the last day with the uphill finish, we have a really strong squad for this. Then in the sprints if we can get one stage, I think that will be a bonus since we have maybe three riders in the sprint train and will compete against full trains of other teams.”

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UAE Team Emirates aim to be top-seven team this season and one of the best by 2020

Jay Asser 19/02/2018
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UAE Team Emirates riders ahead of the Abu Dhabi Tour.

From a top-seven team by the end of this season, to one of the top outfits in cycling by 2020, the expectations for UAE Team Emirates continue to rise.

After getting their feet wet in last season’s inaugural campaign, the team significantly raised the talent on their roster with the additions of big names in Alexander Kristoff, Fabio Aru and Dan Martin.

And as the profile and level of the squad grows, so does Mauro Gianetti’s belief that UAE Team Emirates can compete with the best.

“The target of this year was to first increase the level of the team. With Fabio Aru, Kristoff and other very good riders on the team, the main goal is to be one of the top seven teams in the world by the end of the year,” said the UAE Team Emirates general manger.

“And of course to be a team like (co-manager and former cyclist) Giuseppe Saronni, a team that shows courage during the race. Not just waiting, but take the race in hand in the big tours like the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and of course the classics like Milan-San Remo, Flanders and others.”

Considering the riders at their disposal now, that goal appears more than attainable.

Kristoff, the current European champion, has claimed two stages in the Tour de France (both in 2014), while winning both Milan-San Remo (2014) and Tour of Flanders (2015).

Aru has a Vuelta a Espana title (2015) to his name, along with the young rider classification in the Giro d’italia (2015) and a stage victory at last year’s Tour de France.

Martin, meanwhile, has stage triumphs in both the Vuelta (2011) and Tour de France (2013).

The collective resume of UAE Team Emirates means that the time is now for the squad to at least put on respectable showings in the Grand Tours and Classics.

“Expectations this season are at another level. With riders like Kristoff, Aru and Martin, we hope they will be protagonists in the Classics,” said Gianetti.

“In Milan-San Remo and these types of Classics, we didn’t have a lot of good riders last year. With Aru and Martin, when we go to the Giro and to the Vuelta, we will be at another level with riders fighting for the GC (general classification).”

While the roster is in place for UAE Team Emirates to make good on their short-term target, Gianetti recognises that they will have to keep evolving to reach the bigger goal – one that is still years down the road.

Gianetti said: “The dream and the vision is to by 2020 be one of the top teams in the world.”

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