UAE Team Emirates head to Vuelta a Espana confident after Tour de France heroics

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Fabio Aru has so far endured a tough first season with UAE Team Emirates.

UAE Team Emirates will head into this year’s Vuelta a Espana full of confidence and buoyed by their recent successes at the Tour de France.

The team will be led by Fabio Aru, who has pedigree at this race having been crowned champion in 2015.

The Italian has a long standing affection for the Spanish Grand Tour and favours the parcours in the 2018 edition.

He will be joined from August 25-September 16 by fellow countrymen Valerio Conti, Simone Consonni, Edward Ravasi and Simone Petlli, in addition to the Norwegian duo of Sven Erik Bystrom and newly crowned national road race champion, Vegard Stake Laengen.

Completing the eight person line-up will be Irishman Dan Martin, who returns to racing after a landmark Tour de France that saw him win a stage, finish eighth in the General Classification (GC) and presented with the most aggressive rider award on the Champs Elysees.

The team will be guided through Spain by three sports directors: Phillipe Mauduit, Paolo Tiralongo and Bruno Vicino.

Dan Martin enjoyed an incredible Tour de France, including finishing eighth in the general classification standings.

Dan Martin enjoyed an incredible Tour de France, including finishing eighth in the general classification standings.

Team Leader Aru, who will be hoping for a vast improvement having been forced to abandon his pursuit of the Giro d’Italia crown in May due to injury and illness, said: “I really like the Vuelta for many reasons: the route, the climbs and especially the fans who have always shown great affection towards me.

“I approach it with great enthusiasm and a desire to do well, also to repay the affection and support shown to me by the team, the sponsors and the fans since the Giro.

“I arrive from the first part of the season in which I did not get the results I was looking for, but from the defeats you can learn important lessons and all this gives me great motivation. It will be a tactically open Vuelta, the nine summit finishes will lend themselves to attacks.

“And I must beware of short stages, they will have a big impact on the General Classification. The competition is spread wide and level; (Miguel Angel) Lopez, the Yates brothers (Adam and Simon), (Rigoberto) Uran and the captains of Movistar… without forgetting that (Vincenzo) Nibali is also making his race return.”

Team manager Joxean Matxin added: “We will have the chance to aim for outstanding results with high-calibre and experienced riders and, at the same time, to help give some a step-up in their careers.

“Aru will be our man for the GC, in addition we will be able to count on Daniel Martin, back from an excellent Tour de France and looking for more good results in some stage finishes particularly suited to him.

“Consonni will have the opportunity to show his talent in the sprints. And Petilli and Ravasi will have the responsibility of supporting Aru and Martin the best they can on the climbs, in addition to Conti.

“I also think the contribution of the Norwegian duo Laengen and Bystrom will offer a well-rounded, robust team. Among other things, Bystrom won the 2014 world championships as an Under 23 in Spain.”

Similar to this year’s Giro, the opening stage of the Vuelta will see riders tackle a short 8km Individual Time Trial (ITT) that shouldn’t separate too many of the main GC contenders.

From there on in, it’s straight into the grit of the mountains, with Stage 2 being the first of nine summit finishes at this year’s race. Three of them are new to the Vuelta and will provide testing conditions for the riders, especially given temperatures are expected to exceed 30 degrees on most of the early stages.

Following the first rest day on September 3, riders will go up against a series of rolling hills and the longest stage of this year’s race – the 208km Stage 11 route from Provincia de Zamora to Ribeira Sacra.

The mountains come thick and fast thereafter, with three consecutive summit finishes before the second rest day on Spetember 10, followed by the second ITT on Stage 16.

Riders will be anticipating a brutal trip through the north as they make their way towards Andorra and arguably the toughest stage of the entire race – Stage 20; a summit finish at Collada de La Gallina that sees riders battle more than 1,000m of climbing for over 13km.

The final stage is set to be a procession into the Spanish capital, Madrid, where the red jersey winner will be crowned.

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Peter Sagan will start his 2019 season at the Tour Down Under

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Three-time world champion Peter Sagan has confirmed he will start his 2019 season in Australia at the Tour Down Under.

The Slovakian ace became the first big name to confirm his appearance at the traditional curtain-raiser for the UCI’s WorldTour.

“Once again I am looking forward to being at the Santos Tour Down Under,” he said, after taking out the warm-up People’s Choice Classic and Stage 4 honours this year.

“This iconic Australian race is the perfect start to the UCI WorldTour season. It has it all, a challenging course, warm weather and the passionate fans.”

Sagan will be making his fourth appearance at the event on the streets of Adelaide and through the surrounding countryside, which will take place from January 10-20 next year.

South Australia holds a place close to Sagan’s heart, with the Bora-Hansgrohe rider making his professional Tour debut there in 2010.

His commitment is great news for the race and organiser Mike Turtur who will feel Sagan’s announcement will lead to other big names committing to Adelaide.

“Peter Sagan is a gentleman of the sport and the most popular cyclist in the world,” Turtur said.

“He’s had a good year so he knows that starting here in Australia is beneficial, as clearly he likes to hit the ground running.”

South Africa’s Daryl Impey was the overall winner at this year’s Tour Down Under.

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UAE Team Emirates' wheels are turning, but there's still a long road ahead

Matt Jones 18/08/2018
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It says a lot about how far UAE Team Emirates have come in the last 12 months and their ambitions for the future that management is a little disappointed by their Tour de France heroics.

The UAE flag only adorned the UCI’s (Union Cycliste Internationale) WorldTour calendar for the first time in 2017 as the Emirates stepped in to rescue a flagging bid to bail out Lampre-Merida – synonymous with professional cycling since the early 1990s – at the end of the previous year.

In their first season the side saw South African rider Louis Meintjes pick up eighth place at Le Tour. A year on they replicated that through new arrival Dan Martin.

The Irishman also won Stage 6, UAE Team Emirates’ first-ever stage success at cycling’s most iconic race, and stood proudly on the podium on the final day as he collected the race’s most aggressive rider award.

Additionally, Alexander Kristoff signed off perfectly with victory on the final Stage 21 parade into Paris down the picturesque Champs Elysees. The Norwegian speedster was also runner-up for the sprinters’ green jersey behind the merciless Peter Sagan – who has won the points classification in six of the last seven years.

Not bad at all. But the team are still striving for more. They believe they can do better.

12 08 uae team emirates

“Honestly, we can’t ask more for this year (at the Tour de France), considering also the final eighth place GC (General Classification), after a crash and bad luck involved for our leader Dan Martin,” said Mauro Gianetti, the team’s business manager and glue which holds this ambitious project together.

“At the Tour de France we achieved very important results: two stages victories, classics of the Tour like the Mur de Bretagne and the final sprint at the Champs Elysees.

“The prize of the best aggressive rider; second in the points jersey; two UAE Team Emirates riders on the final podium in Paris. The first time ever.

“But, for sure we are not happy about the results of the first part of the season. A lot of crashes, illness, injuries until the Giro d’Italia, where we started as a favourite with Fabio Aru, but he was forced to abandon.

“We have continued to work hard and, finally, we’ve got a good balance, but with the thought that we can still improve.”

Gianetti is the guru who has played a huge part in guiding the UAE into the realms of the elite, having a WorldTour team for the country to call its own.

Though he won’t admit it, the modest 54-year-old – a former professional rider of some standing – was integral to the team’s genesis.

Dan Martin wins Stage 6 of the Tour de France - a maiden stage win at Le Tour for the team.

Dan Martin wins Stage 6 of the Tour de France – a maiden stage win at Le Tour for the team.

Gianetti stepped in when an original deal with Chinese backers fell through, putting in a phonecall to Emirati property tycoon Matar Al Dhaheri, offering him the chance of a lifetime – creating a lasting legacy for cycling in the Emirates.

And just like that, the UAE had a seat at the cycling’s top table, among the Spanish, Belgian, German, French, Dutch, British and US giants.

Cycling, traditionally a sport dominated by the heartlands of Europe, has stretched into the sandy hinterlands.

Bahrain-Merida formed just a few weeks prior to the UAE. Before that, Astana, of Kazakhstan, and South Africa’s Team Dimension Data, both emerged in 2007, inserted real colour to the sport and competition to the likes of LottoNL-Jumbo, founded in 1984, and Spain’s Movistar, the oldest surviving team on the WorldTour, who have been around since 1980.

12 08 uae team emirates map

It’s a radiant rainbow of nations which make up modern day cycling, with the colours filtrating down to the squads themselves. Green, red, white and black combine on the UAE flag and the country’s cycling team are also a true portrait of the sport today.

The 26-strong squad is represented by 13 different nationalities (as seen in the graphic above) – one each from Morocco, Colombia, Portugal, Croatia, Ireland, Poland, Slovenia, Belarus, Australia, Britain and the UAE’s own Yousif Mirza.

There are three Norwegians while an Italian core is retained with nearly half (12) of the team hailing from Lo Stivale (the Boot), where the team first kicked into existence, as Diana-Colnago-Animex, 28 years ago.

Two of the new additions to the team a year on from forming have been key in both raising the team’s profile further and the number of wins collected.

The talented trio of Aru, Kristoff and Martin came in with massive reputations – Kristoff is the reigning European champion while Aru is a Grand Tour winner considered one of the best athletes in the sport.

Along with Martin they have joined Rui Costa, himself a former world champion.

Success of course rarely comes easy. UAE Team Emirates have had a taste of top tier triumph under the previous Italian owners.

Yousif Mirza is one of 13 different nationalities among 26 UAE Team Emirates riders.

Yousif Mirza is one of 13 different nationalities among 26 UAE Team Emirates riders.

In their previous guise it took the team 11 years to win a Grand Tour race. They are in the midst of just their second season so you will afford them some more time for the transformation to yield such reward.

But this year’s Tour de France feels like a breakthrough, with Martin and Kristoff achieving smashing results.

A top-10 overall finish – Martin finished just over nine minutes adrift of Welsh winner Geraint Thomas – as well as everything else should make Martin pretty proud.

But the man who also won a stage in 2013 is not one to reflect, only envision.

“I am never somebody who looks back and says ‘what if’,” says Martin, who might be forgiven for thinking just that after a crash on Stage 8, two days after winning Stage 6, saw him drop vital minutes and left him uttering the epic line “It looks like a bit of a pizza back there” about his damaged back.

Fabio Aru is in his first season with UAE Team Emirates.

Fabio Aru is in his first season with UAE Team Emirates.

“I think it’s better to talk about what’s possible next year. How strong I was after I had recovered from my injuries and got second at the hardest finish (Stage 17’s Bagneres-de-Luchon to Saint-Lary-Soulan).

“Our plan when I signed was to try and make the podium in Paris. We meant the top three overall but to make the podium in the first year for super combative just makes us more excited and hungry for next year.”

Martin left highly respected Belgian outfit Quick-Step Floors after two years at the end of last season. He had a plethora of offers, from Team Sky – he turned the British team down as he wouldn’t be considered a team leader at Grand Tour races – Bora-Hansgrohe, BMC, Katusha-Alpecin and Trek-Segafredo.

But the Birmingham-born puncheur has totally bought into the Middle East project.

“The ambition of the team and where they want to take this project, that’s the reason I came,” he added.

“I am also incredibly ambitious and believe in this project. I am also impatient and want to get to our goals as soon as possible but this process does take time. Obviously it’s not easy but my results the last few months show that great things are possible.

“I’m confident next year will be a big season for Team UAE.”

The proof is in the pudding and Martin and Gianetti are right to keep their focus fixed on the horizon and dream of better.

There are still two months of this season remaining, but the team are behind schedule in terms of last year’s success. A total of 16 wins were earned.

Ignore the Tour de France fireworks and only 10 have been achieved this year. The fewest they claimed in four years of financial struggle as Lampre-Merida was 2013’s haul of 16.

The wheels are in motion and in terms of their stable of riders, standing and progress, UAE Team Emirates are definitely on the right road. But there remains some way to go.

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