UAE Team Emirates have announced UAE national champion Yousif Mirza has signed a new two-year deal with the Emirati outfit.
The new contract was signed during the team’s recent UAE training camp, with Asian Road Race champion Mirza – who recently celebrated his 30th birthday – having enjoyed a record-breaking season.
He secured his eighth UAE national road race title as well as picking up a hat-trick of medals at the Asian Cycling Championships in Malaysia.
His achievements have been recognised by the leadership, being awarded the Outstanding UAE Athlete of 2017 prize, on behalf of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the President of the UAE.
And his contract extension is a sign of the faith the team has in homegrown talent.
Commenting on the new deal, Mirza said: “I’m happy to be able to continue to be a part of this magnificent team that takes the name of my country around the world.
“It’s an honour to line up alongside these world-class riders, sharing the joy of success with my teammates, and sharing my love for cycling with everyone from the UAE.
“The bar continues to be lifted as the team bring many other champions to this project, and for my part, I’m going to continue giving my utmost to push it ahead.
“In the first two years, the team and I were able to reach our goals of seeing more and more bikes on the road, and getting people of all ages to be passionate about this sport.
“I feel like my teammates and I are role models for the whole community, and I hope my participation on the UCI WorldTour can inspire more people in the UAE to ride their bikes.”
Mirza’s extension is an encouraging sign for the local hero, as UAE Team Emirates continue to value his ability having signed a host of elite riders already ahead of the new 2019 season.
Fernando Gaviria is a sensational arrival from Quick-Step Floors while fellow Colombian and national road race champion Sergio Henao has also bolstered a team already containing Fabio Aru, Alexander Kristoff and Dan Martin.
Dan Martin believes UAE Team Emirates’ determination to create a cycling culture could result in the UAE producing a future Tour de France champion.
The 32-year-old English-born Irishman is in the Emirates with a handful of team-mates on a week-long training camp and visited schoolchildren in Abu Dhabi on Monday.
Martin joined Norway’s former European champion Alexander Kristoff and Emirati national champion Yousif Mirza in hosting a series of coaching clinics with pupils from Al Yasmina Academy in the capital – something he feels could have a lasting impact on pupils.
Martin and Kristoff both impressively won a stage at this year’s Tour de France – professional cycling’s showpiece event – and could likely form part of UAE Team Emirates’ line-up for the inaugural UAE Tour next February.
The UAE Tour will merge the Abu Dhabi and Dubai Tours into a more significant WorldTour race that will consist of seven stages and make a greater impact than two separate UCI races, the 2.HC Dubai Tour and the Abu Dhabi Tour, which was granted WorldTour status in 2017.
And Martin feels the new event and the team’s increasing success and popularity bodes well for cultivating a cycling legacy in the Gulf region.
“We’ll come here with smiles on our faces (next year) and that’s what it’s about, teaching the kids to enjoy cycling,” said Martin, whose Stage 6 win in France this summer was UAE Team Emirates’ maiden stage victory at Le Tour.
“Cycling is enjoyable. Maybe they go home tonight and say ‘that was terrible, I hate it, I never want to ride a bike again’. But if 10 per cent of them think ‘oh, that was cool. I want to ride a bike again’ then we’ve helped a little bit. That’s what happened in the UK. Everybody tries cycling now, we’re exposed to a lot of different sports.”
Martin was among the leading protagonists for the coveted yellow jersey in France during July. He eventually finished eighth, a little over nine minutes adrift of champion Geraint Thomas, but appeared on the podium in Paris after being named the Tour’s most combative rider.
He and Kristoff have just completed their debut campaigns with UAE Team Emirates and both have spoken about the team’s vision, forging a cycling legacy in the Emirates, being a big factor in their decisions to join.
“Lizzie Armistead did something like these kids did today at school, then became world champion (in 2015),” added Martin.
“She had no family background, she started in school. She had a session like this where people introduced her to cycling and she became the best in the world.
“Who knows, one of these kids here today could be winning the Tour de France in 15 years, that’s how powerful what the team are trying to do here in the UAE with cycling is.”
Kristoff, 31, who won the final sprint stage at this year’s Tour and began his 2018 season with victory on Stage 1 of the Abu Dhabi Tour in February, added: “I love visiting the UAE and it means even more when we get to work on community initiatives.
“One of the reasons I wanted to join UAE Team Emirates was because of their vision to create a cycling culture in the region and today is a clear example of that ambition coming to life.
“I thought the kids were great. Really enthusiastic and really talented. They worked super hard and all of them improved in one way or another. I think they did themselves and their school proud.”
The session was the next phase of the UAE Team Emirates Youth Academy, which was initially launched over the summer in Dubai with the aim of getting more local and expat youngsters into cycling.
Foundation stage children were taken through the basics of cycling on balance bikes and advised about the importance of wearing helmets, while older pupils were challenged with a series of skills tests and given practical advice on bike safety and maintenance.
Elite athletes from the school participated in a cycling master class and a Q&A session with the riders and coaches, focusing on the importance of effective training, recovery and nutrition.
Local hero Mirza, 30, said: “One of the best things about being a professional bike rider is being able to give back to the next generation of cyclists and be a role model for young kids.
“I feel extremely proud every time I race for UAE Team Emirates, but today was extra special because I got to inspire young Emirati children. I would like to think that this experience stays with them for a long time and keeps them excited about cycling for years to come.”
The Dubai Eye 103.8 2018/2019 UAE Road Cycling Championship continued with an Individual Time Trial in Dubai on Friday.
Sanctioned by the UAE Cycling Federation, the championship is touted as ‘UAE’s Nationals’, crowning annual amateur Emirati and expatriate male and female cyclists, with this season’s edition raced over four stages; two climbing, one time trial and one flat stage.
Oakley stage two saw cyclists compete in this specialised discipline over 21.6kilomotres on police-managed, closed roads of The Outlet Village Dubai Parks and Resorts.
Taking the honours were Deirdre Casey for open expatriate female, Amer Al Dahmanithe won the social Emirati male, Khalid Mayouf claiming open Emirati male and Sam Stollery the open expatriate Male.
Leaders of the championship after stage two are Casey, Yaser Al Balooshi (social Emirati male), Mayouf (Emirati clubs male) and Stollery.
Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Authority’s stage three promises to be an exhilarating, grueling 50km attack on the formidable Jebel Jais, the UAE’s highest mountain, on Friday, November 9.
The championship’s fourth and deciding stage will be raced on Friday, December 7, at Dubai Sports City’s 103.8km road race.
Titles for the 2018/2019 UAE Road Cycling Championship’s four main categories will be decided via a points system, and follow the British Cycling Points System (NAT A Road Category).
The cumulative-points leader of each main category will receive and wear the leader’s jersey, while stage winners and stage age-division winners will be recognised at each stage.
Overall champions will take their ‘champion’s jersey’ and title through to the 2019/2020 championship, as well as receive a champion’s cheque.
Oakley stage-two age-division winners:
Age Male (Open) Female (Open) Emirati Male (Social)
16-18 Lian Aucamp Yaser Al Balooshi
19-30 Sam Stollery Roisin Thomas
31-40 Ian Farrell Deirdre Casey Amer Al Dahmani
41-50 Johan Hesselsoe Natasha Leask Zaal Bin Zaal
51-60 Marc Adam
61+ Steve Rice