Peter Sagan beat off reigning Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas in a tense three-way tussle to the line to win the Tour’s Shanghai Criterium on Saturday.
The three-time world champion from Slovakia seared to the finish in a sprint with Welshman Thomas, who was second, with Italy’s Matteo Trentin a narrow third.
The Shanghai race was staged for the second time as part of the Tour de France’s efforts to boost its brand in China, a country once known as the “kingdom of bicycles”.
The race involved 20 laps around a three-kilometre (1.9-mile) street circuit that passed the distinctive China Art Museum.
Under mostly clear skies, Team Sky’s Thomas took the lead with three laps to go, with Sagan and Mitchelton-Scott team’s Trentin at close quarters.
After emerging from the trio in a nail-biting finish, the 28-year-old Sagan, of the Bora-Hansgrohe team, said: “I am very happy for this victory.
“I tried to save energy and see in the last three or four laps.
“I saw it was a strong group with Thomas and Trentin.
“The first few laps were a bit bad, but then they became better and better after every lap.”
The star-studded race attracted a decent-sized crowd in central Shanghai.
Bicycles have long been the workhorse of urban transport for China’s masses, but recreational cycling is on the rise as incomes and leisure pursuits increase.
Veteran Spaniard Alejandro Valverde, the newly crowned world champion, triumphed at the Tour’s Saitama Criterium earlier this month in Japan.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.