Yousif Mirza and Diego Ulissi return to action for UAE Team Emirates at BinckBank Tour

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UAE Team Emirates local hero Yousif Mirza returns to racing in good form after a long spell of summer training camps around Europe.

The Emirati national champion will be riding in support of Diego Ulissi as the team takes on the BinckBank Tour from August 13-19.

Italian Ulissi will go into the stage race as a team leader who is full of confidence, knowing he is the second highest ranked rider in the peloton for the annual tour through the Netherlands and Belgium.

As well as Mirza, Ulissi will be joined by fellow Italian riders Filippo Ganna and Manuele Mori, Briton Ben Swift, Jan Polanc from Slovenia and young Belarussian star Alexandr Riabushenko.

The team will be guided by an Italian duo of sports directors, Daniele Righi and Marco Marzano.

Commenting ahead of the race, Righi said: “The riders with the skills that can most likely make it to the top part of the classification are Ulissi, who proved to be in good shape last weekend in the Clasica de San Sebastian, and Riabushenko, a young rider with excellent potential for this type of race.

Diego Ulissi.

Diego Ulissi.

“The faster stages will present Swift with significant chances to try to make it back into the more prestigious spots in the stage classification and, if there should be any breakaways, Polanc will be ready to show off his strength.

“The time trial will take place on a route that isn’t ideal for Ganna, however he will provide valuable backup for his team mates during the tour, along with Mori and Mirza – who is coming off a period of training with his national team.

“He spent several days riding on the track, focusing on work that should help him find the right pedal stroke to lead out Swift in the approach to the sprints; he will also be giving his usual support to the entire team during each individual stage.”

Now in its 13th edition, the BinckBank Tour – formerly known as the Eneco Tour – is famed for its undulating terrain, short steep hills and cobbled sections, giving it the feel of a Spring Classic in the summer months.

Traditionally, the route has featured a combination of climbs from the Amstel Gold Race, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Tour of Flanders, making it an ideal tour for classics riders and hilly specialists.

This year’s seven stages feature four flat routes ranging from 165.5km to 209.2kms in distance, a 12.7km individual time trial and two hilly courses of 182.2km and 209.5km, which traverse through the Netherlands and Belgium respectively.

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Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas set to sign new deal with Team Sky

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Geraint Thomas during a celebratory homecoming event in Cardiff on Thursday

Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas says he is on the verge of signing a new deal at Team Sky.

Thomas, whose Team Sky contract is about to expire, revealed he had been courted by rival teams after winning Le Tour last month.

But the 32-year-old, back in his hometown Cardiff where thousands turned out to celebrate his Tour de France success, said: “I’ve made my mind up (about staying) in my head really and just need to get it done officially.

“It’s nice to have some good offers but hopefully it will be done in the coming days.”

New team CCC WorldTour revealed on Wednesday that they had launched a bid to sign Thomas for 2019.

The Polish outfit is the result of a merger between CCC Sprandi Polkowice and BMC Racing, and sports director Piotr Wadecki announced their intentions to build their Tour de France team around Thomas.

“There’s obviously a lot of good teams out there,” Thomas said.

“I respect them and I wanted to hear what they had to say.

“But I’m happy in the team I’m at and it works for me.

“I feel a real part of it. I grew up in the system and known them all since I was 17.”

Thomas took over the mantle of Team Sky’s lead rider at the 2018 Tour de France after proving stronger than fellow Briton Chris Froome.

Four-time Le Tour winner Froome ended up in the role of support rider, finishing third as Thomas became the first Welshman to win cycling’s greatest prize.

“I think the way we rode this year was the right way to go about it,” Thomas said.

“We’re both honest and open with each other, we’re good mates and that hasn’t changed.

“I think it can work again if the roles were reversed next year.

“Obviously I would be disappointed as Froomey was because you want to win. But then again if Froomey is stronger then you do your bit.

“It was obviously a great month for me, but the surprising thing was being able to do it day in and day out, and not feel under pressure that I was going to lose the race.”

Thousands gathered outside the Senedd in Cardiff Bay and at Cardiff Castle to celebrate Thomas’ success, the winner of the prized yellow jersey completing the final few hundred yards of his journey in the city centre on his bicycle.

“You dream about winning races and holding your arms up in the air, but you never think about what happens after that,” Thomas said.

“We were down at the Senedd, and you think ‘this is where everyone has come and there will be no-one at the Castle’.

“But then I had this at the Castle as well, and to see the pride and passion of people is mad.

“It’s hard getting your head around it that this is all for me.”

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Team Sky's Gianni Moscon suspended for five weeks after expulsion from Tour de France

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Gianni Moscon has been suspended for five weeks by cycling’s world governing body for his expulsion from the Tour de France – but the controversial Italian has earned a reprieve from Team Sky.

Moscon was disqualified from the race for punching Fortuneo-Samsic rider Elie Gesbert early on Stage 15 to Carcassonne on July 22.

The UCI announced on Wednesday that the 24-year-old Italian has been banned until September 12.

Team Sky responded, with Moscon publicly apologising and team principal Sir Dave Brailsford sticking by Moscon.

Brailsford said on teamsky.com: “We have a duty of care to all our riders which we take extremely seriously. Gianni is still a relatively young rider at the start of his career and we will continue to give him the help and support he needs to learn, develop and move forward from this.”

The incident, 800 metres into the stage, was just the latest in a long line of disciplinary missteps from Moscon, who was suspended for six weeks last year after racially abusing fellow rider Kevin Reza.

Brailsford said, during the Tour, he would consider if Moscon should face further punishment after the race, which was won by Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas.

Moscon (l) was suspended for six weeks last year after racially abusing fellow rider Kevin Reza.

Moscon (l) was suspended for six weeks last year after racially abusing fellow rider Kevin Reza.

When asked directly, Brailsford would not rule out terminating Moscon’s contract, but Sky have now stopped short of that action.

The UCI on Wednesday said its disciplinary commission had disqualified Moscon from the Tour and suspended him for five weeks.

Moscon said on teamsky.com: “I accept the suspension given to me by the UCI.

“I reacted in the heat of the moment and it was never my intention to hit the rider.

“As the footage shows I didn’t make contact, but I regret my actions and I have already apologised to both Elie Gesbert and Team Fortuneo-Samsic for the incident.”

Brailsford added: “We accept the UCI’s decision to suspend Gianni for a five-week period.

“This incident obviously happened during one of the most challenging races the team has ever faced. We are confident that Gianni truly regrets his actions and has learnt from this episode.”

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