Despite the fact that the UAE – Abu Dhabi Professional Cycling Team was only granted a place on the World Tour 14 days ago after initial Chinese backing fell through, Maruo Gianetti insists it has long been his dream to bring professional cycling to the Emirates.
The UCI awarded UAE – Abu Dhabi the 18th spot on the 2017 World Tour on December 22 after project coordinator Gianetti and team manager Giuseppe Saronni secured backing from Matar Suhail Al Yabhouni Al Dhaheri’s Kopaonik Property Investment LLC in just 10 days after the planned TJ Sport team application collapsed.
Both Saronni and Gianetti are former professional riders, and Gianetti is thrilled something positive has emerged out of long-time World Tour veterans Lampre-Merida’s demise.
“It’s been a long time I work on this project. I’ve had a dream for a long time and my thanks go to Mr Matar,” said Gianetti, who competed for Switzerland at the 2000 Summer Olympics.
“It wasn’t just a project that came out of Lampre folding. I was in China working on negotiations but the timing for the group in China was delayed, it caused a big problem so for this reason I spoke to Mr Matar and told him there was an opportunity. We can create something great.
“He immediately appreciated this and this is why we started working on it so quickly.”
Aside from targeting individual and team glory in the season ahead, Gianetti says promoting cycling and active lifestyles to the UAE’s youth is also of paramount concern.
He added: “This is not a normal project. The team will be the focus for the young children here to take up sport. We want to go into schools to teach the young people to use the bike, not for being champions, just to be fit, healthy and happy.
“Of course the big goals of the team is to win races, but another is to create a future healthy society in the Emirates, starting with youngsters.
“Because the UAE is now not just some place in the desert. Now it is the economical centre of the world. The vision I see here I don’t see in any other part of the world.
“The vision the royal family have for the long term is only for the benefit of the population. There’s no economical or personal gain. Cycling is needed to reduce pollution and this is a target for the UAE. It’s why I think they deserve to be awarded World Tour status.”
Emirati rider Yousif Mirza has been recruited from Al Nasr Pro Cycling Team–Dubai and Gianetti says the 28-year-old will have two important roles to play.
“First of all Yousif is a good rider, he’s good enough to be a part of the World Tour and I hope he will get better,” said Gianetti.
“He also represents that the dream is possible, the youngsters can see that being an international rider is possible, and they will have a chance to be a professional rider with us.”
Rui Costa revealed he had offers from numerous teams ahead of the upcoming UCI World Tour season, but claims it felt “natural” to stay with his family at Lampre – which will be rebranded as UAE – Abu Dhabi Professional Cycling Team for 2017.
Costa will captain the team – the first time in the history of the World Tour that a UAE-owned team will compete.
Sponsored by Kopaonik Property Investment LLC, the team became the 18th to join the 2017 World Tour last month and replaces Lampre-Merida which the team had been known by for the last four years.
The team launch was conducted at Abu Dhabi’s St Regis hotel on the Corniche, where Costa was unveiled alongside five of his team-mates who all donned the team’s new black and white uniforms which will have the UAE flag emblazoned across the jerseys.
Costa was joined by his colleagues in the capital, including South Africa’s Louis Meintjes, Slovenian Matej Mohoric, Italian duo Filippo Ganna and Andrea Guardini, a stage winner at the 2015 Abu Dhabi Tour, and UAE rider Youssef Mirza.
Having been part of professional cycling for 23 years, when the Galbusera family first put their name to the Colnago–Lampre team in 1991, Costa admitted Lampre’s demise was sad, but he insists he is excited about the future with UAE – Abu Dhabi.
“Life goes on,” admitted the 30-year-old, who finished 19th individually on the World Tour last year, while Lampre came 15th in the team standings, a massive 1,029 points behind champions, Nairo Quintana’s Movistar Team.
“The Galbusera family was behind Lampre for 20 years so of course it’s sad, but there is new life and I’m excited about the future.”
Costa, winner of three stages of the Tour de France and road race world champion in 2013, said he could have joined a new team in the off-season, but feels part of the family at UAE – Abu Dhabi.
“I had many, many proposals, but I am part of the family here,” he said.
“The family now has a new challenge in front of them that is very exciting. I feel part of this family already so it was natural for me to stay. The best choice is the one you make and the choice I made was Abu Dhabi.”
He only turned 30 three months ago but he is surrounded by youngsters in the UAE – Abu Dhabi stable.
Mirza is 28 and Guardini 27, while Meintjes (24), Mohoric (22) and Ganna (20) are younger still, but despite their tender years, Costa feels success is UAE – Abu Dhabi’s for the taking.
He added: “The aims for the season are clear for us. We want to achieve success both as a team and individually. It’s a challenging environment but I think that will help us.
“We are targeting the classics. The team is very well organised, it’s big, it’s bold and I think we are only going to get more successful in the future.
“I am only 30, so I don’t feel like I am a father to everyone, but of course my target is to help the younger generation. If they want to learn something then obviously I am here to offer my experience.”
Giuseppe Saronni will act as team manager and it is he, together with project manager Mauro Gianetti, who helped broker a deal with Kopaonik president Matar Suhail Al Yabhouni Al Dhaheri in just ten days after original funding from China failed to materialise.
The UCI awarded UAE – Abu Dhabi a two-year licence on December 22.
Saronni re-signed Costa, Diego Ulissi and Sacha Modolo in August and have since added Ben Swift from Team Sky, Darwin Atapuma from BMC, Vegard Stake Laengen from IAM Cycling, and Marco Marcato from Wanty-Groupe Gobert.
The team will make its race debut at the People’s Choice Classic criterium on January 15 and then enter the season-opening World Tour race, the Tour Down Under, which begins a couple of days later on January 17.
Under the direction of Matar Suhail Al Yabhouni Al Dhaheri, an Abu Dhabi based company will be the main sponsor of UAE Abu Dhabi, a professional UCI World Tour cycling team that will compete starting from the 2017 season.
Mauro Gianetti, a former professional rider and manager has provided strategic advice to the company on its entry into professional cycling.
UAE Abu Dhabi will be managed by former racing cyclist Giuseppe Saronni and will aim to excel on the World Tour and promote and inspire cycling in Abu Dhabi, the UAE and worldwide. Matar Suhail Al Yabhouni Al Dhaheri will act as the interim team representative before becoming the future President of the professional team at the beginning of the race season.
Matar Suhail Al Yabhouni Al Dhaheri , the head of the Company sponsoring UAE Abu Dhabi said: “We are excited to announce UAE Abu Dhabi, UCI WorldTour cycling team. The creation of the team will continue to galvanise, elevate and promote cycling in Abu Dhabi and the UAE.
“We are proud to be entering a long-term partnership with one of the world’s longest-standing and most successful sports. My gratitude goes to Mauro Gianetti – this project would not have been possible without his trusted counsel and support.”