'Incredible champion' Fabio Aru will bounce back for UAE Team Emirates in 2019

Matt Jones 7/11/2018
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Fabio Aru (2nd r) endured a difficult 2018 Giro d'Italia.

Mauro Gianetti has labelled Fabio Aru an “incredible champion” and insists the UAE Team Emirates rider will get back to cycling’s summit.

Gianetti, UAE Team Emirates’ business manager, believes Aru is one of the biggest talents in professional cycling – evidenced by his 2015 Vuelta a Espana General Classification title, as well as podium finishes at the 2014 and 2015 Giro d’Italia.

The Italian was also fifth at the Vuelta in 2014 and claimed fifth at the other Grand Tour race, the Tour de France, in 2017, where he also won a stage.

But Aru has found himself, generally, stuck in a rut during recent years.

He and compatriot Vincenzo Nibali were rumoured to have clashed while together at Astana between 2013-16 – before the elder Nibali left. That was seen as the switch that would flick Aru’s career back into gear.

Mauro Gianetti has backed Fabio Aru to rediscover his best form.

Mauro Gianetti has backed Fabio Aru to rediscover his best form.

Yet he has been unable to truly regain his stellar 2015 form and eventually fell out with Astana himself, leading to the two acrimoniously parting ways after five years in 2017. The Kazakhstan-based team began legal action against Aru following his decision to leave.

His acquisition by UAE Team Emirates was seen as a staggering coup and it was hoped would be the catalyst for a change in fortunes.

Yet his malaise has only deepened, with his debut season in the black, white, red and green of the UAE a struggle – highlighted by him being forced to abandon his assault on a Giro title that continues to allude him after Stage 19.

But Gianetti thinks better is to come from a rider who only turned 28 in July.

“I think what we see this year is not Fabio Aru,” Gianetti told Sport360 in Abu Dhabi last week where the team were enjoying a training camp.

“Fabio Aru is one of the most talented riders in the world. He showed in past years, you cannot win a Vuelta, three-time podium in big tours if you are not a great, great talent.

“But the talent is not lost, the talent exists. We will see completely another Fabio next season. He’s an incredible champion, he will come back.”

Fabio Aru won the Vuelta a Espana in 2015.

Fabio Aru won the Vuelta a Espana with Astana in 2015.

Aru, known as the Knight of the Four Moors, said himself he felt as if he was going through an “abnormal” period of his career following a miserable Giro attempt ended an hour into Stage 19 – with the Sardinia native dropping to 27th and 45 minutes behind leader Simon Yates having earlier been inside the top 10. It was a race he had entered as favourite.

“This year, I don’t know, it happens sometime in cycling. In all kinds of sport,” added Gianetti, the Swiss himself a former pro rider who competed at the 2000 Olympics.

“I think it was finally a consequence of some small mistakes. Too much training. I think when you are young and you win so much you will improve and maybe you have a tendency not to fulfill your body development.

“You think you can do more and more and when you train too much, you pay. It appears stupid to say but I think sometimes it’s better to not train enough because you always have time to train, but when you overtrain you take up a lot of time.

“We think what happened with Fabio is this.”

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Yousif Mirza signs new two-year deal with UAE Team Emirates

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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.

Fabio Aru, the 2015 Vuelta a Espana champion, joined UAE Team Emirates for 2018.

Fabio Aru, the 2015 Vuelta a Espana champion, joined UAE Team Emirates for 2018.

“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.

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Dan Martin says the UAE could produce a future Tour de France champion

Matt Jones 29/10/2018
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Dan Martin claimed UAE Team Emirates' first ever Tour de France stage win.

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.

Alexander Kristoff also won a stage at this year's Tour de France.

Alexander Kristoff also won a stage at this year’s Tour de France.

“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.

Yousif Mirza chats with Al Yasmina Academy pupils.

Yousif Mirza chats with Al Yasmina Academy pupils.

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.”

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