The UCI WorldTour 2019 is less than one-week away and, for UAE Team Emirates, it not only marks their third season as a professional cycling squad on the sport’s biggest stage, but one that promises to be their most successful yet.
Their 2018 campaign brought the team a series of high-profile wins across the year, with impressive podiums in one day classics, stage races and Grand Tours – most notably the Tour de France, where both Dan Martin and Alexander Kristoff earned first-place finishes.
This year the team has bolstered the squad with even more firepower, bringing in both world-class riders with proven pedigree on the WorldTour and young talent with the ability to grow into stars of the future.
The new roster of riders will give the team an edge for 2019, elevating them to the next level with the goal of being one of the most competitive teams on the tour.
The new signings have been made possible through the continued support of the team’s existing sponsors, which include local partners Emirates and First Abu Dhabi Bank as well as Emirati real estate development company Emaar, who now feature prominently on the front and back of the team’s jersey.
The most notable of the new riders signed during the winter off-season was rising Colombian sprinting talent Fernando Gaviria.
The 24-year-old was a two-stage Tour de France winner in 2018 with Quick-Step and is heralded as one of cycling’s most promising talents. Despite his tender years, Gaviria’s winning mentality has seen the powerhouse pick up stage wins at the Giro d’Italia (2017), Amgen Tour of California (2018), Tour of Poland (2016), Tirreno-Adriatico (2016 & 2017) and Tour of Britain (2015 & 2017).
Ahead of the new season, Gaviria said: “I’m happy that I’m going to start the new season wearing the jersey of UAE Team Emirates. In addition to the excitement of racing for a new team, I’m really keen to better understand the culture and traditions of the United Arab Emirates and to appreciate how cycling is really growing in the region.
“I admire the team’s project in the UAE, so it’s important that the riders can help inspire young kids to cycle and to promote a healthy lifestyle. I think it’s great that cycling is becoming aspirational and I really want to contribute by achieving great results for the team.”
Joining Gaviria is countryman and Colombian national champion, Sergio Henao. The climber joins UAE Team Emirates from Team Sky, where he secured a number of important wins, most recently the 2017 edition of Paris-Nice which saw him take home the General Classification title.
Another Colombian to join the ranks is Juan Sebastian Molano. The 24-year-old had an impressive 2018 season in cycling’s second division (Pro Continental), picking up the General Classification title at the Tour of China and taking first place in the Pan American Championships Road Race.
He will be looking to make a big impact after stepping up to the UCI WorldTour level.
The quartet of Colombian riders is completed by Cristian Munoz. At just 22, he is the youngest to join for the 2019 season, also graduating from a Columbian Pro Continental cycling team.
Across the Atlantic, UAE Team Emirates secured the signatures of Portuguese twin brothers, Ivo and Rui Oliveira. The former is the reigning Portuguese U-23 Individual Time Trial (ITT) champion, while Rui is the reigning Portuguese U-23 national road race champion.
Another young name to join the Emirati line-up is Belgian Jasper Philipsen. The 20-year-old had an unbelievable 2018 season, picking up a number of domestic wins and becoming one of the most sought after prospects in professional cycling.
Capping off the new names is Swiss rider, Tom Bohli. Having spent the last four years with BMC Racing Team, Bohli joins with a wealth of WorldTour experience.
Team Manager Joxean Matxin said: “Starting a new season is always exciting, because everything you focused on during the winter break is transferred to the road and you can finally see if all your efforts are rewarded by results.
“In 2019 we’ll face even bigger challenges, however, we have strengthened our roster and improved the quality of our structure and processes so we are ready for it.”
Team CEO Mauro Gianetti added: “This will be our third year as UAE Team Emirates and we have never been more excited or more confident of our potential.
“We have signed world class riders – along with some of the best up and coming talent – and they have all bonded extremely well with our existing roster during the winter training camps.
“Off the road we have also forged new relationships with sponsors from the UAE, who will be invaluable in helping the team to build its profile and grow the sport of cycling across the country. We can’t wait to get this season started and show ours fans what we’re capable of.”
The 2019 WorldTour season gets under way with the Tour Down Under in Australia from Sunday.
UAE Team Emirates line-up for Tour Down Under:
Sven Erik Bystrom (Norway), Rory Sutherland (Australia), Ivo Oliveira (Portugal), Jasper Philipsen (Belgium), Tadej Pogacar, Jan Polanc (both Slovenia), Diego Ulissi (Italy)
Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas will both target the Tour de France for Team Sky in 2019, with young Colombian Egan Bernal set to lead the team at the Giro d’Italia.
Froome will not defend his Giro title as he seeks a record-equalling fifth Tour crown, but Thomas also plans to be in France having won the race for the first time in July.
Froome said: “I’m getting to the point in my career now where I’m starting to think about what kind of legacy I want to leave behind and if I am able to win the Tour de France for a fifth time and join that very elite group of bike riders – only four other people have ever done that – it would just be incredible.”
Thomas added: “Maybe if I hadn’t have won the Tour in 2018 I might have looked at a Giro/Vuelta programme but, having won the Tour, I’ll have the number one on my back and it would be sad not to go back and not to go back at 100 per cent as well.”
After five successful years as the Dubai Tour and the Abu Dhabi Tour, the new, combined UAE Tour was officially unveiled at Yas Marina Circuit on Thursday.
The only WorldTour race in the Middle East, organised by Dubai Sports Council, Abu Dhabi Sports Council, Sharjah Sports Council, in partnership with RCS Sport, will take place from Sunday, February 24 to Saturday, March 2 2019.
The inaugural UAE Tour’s seven stages will embrace all seven Emirates. The first three stages will be hosted by Abu Dhabi, the fourth by Dubai, Sharjah and Ras-al-Khaimah, the fifth stage crosses Sharjah, Ras-al-Khaimah and Fujairah. The sixth is in Ajman, Umm-al-Quwain and Ras-al-Khaimah, while the final stage sees a return to Dubai.
The UAE Tour has a total distance of 1,090km with a significant elevation gain of around 4,500 metres, mostly concentrated into stages three, four and six.
Eighteen WorldTour teams plus two UCI Professional Continental Teams are set to start the race. With each team comprising seven riders, a total of 140 athletes will line up at Al Hudayriat Island for the opening stage Team Time Trial.
Among them are some of the world’s finest riders including six-time Grand Tour champion Chris Froome.
The Briton – starting a UAE race for the first time – goes head-to-head with Vincenzo Nibali, Tom Dumoulin, Alejandro Valverde, Elia Viviani and Marcel Kittel.
The new race is a mix of technically different stages, open to all kinds of riders, with the all-rounders most likely to win the overall General Classification category.
It starts on Sunday 24th February in Abu Dhabi’s Al Hudayriat Island with the ADNOC Stage (16km), the very first Team Time Trial opening the Middle East WorldTour race.
The second stage, the Abu Dhabi Stage (184km), will be a tour of the capital, starting in Yas Island and passing through Khalifa Port, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Corniche before finishing at the Big Flag.
The following day, the peloton will start the Al Ain Stage (177km) from the Al Ain UAE University before facing the first UAE Tour peak: the 1,025m Jebel Hafeet, which features a maximum gradient of 11%.
February 27th sees the fourth and longest stage of the UAE Tour, the Dubai Municipality Stage (205km). Its route is a tribute to the classic Dubai Tour “Queen stage”, starting from The Pointe at Palm Jumeirah and finishing with the short, sharp rise of Hatta Dam, climbing 200m on gradients ranging from 12% to a maximum of 17%.
The next day, the Sharjah Stage (181km), runs from Flag Island to Khor Fakkan, from Arabian Gulf to Oman Gulf, from the desert to the ocean – and is likely to culminate in a bunch sprint.
New features are packed into the sixth day, the RAK Properties Stages (180km), when, for the first time, the peloton will ride among the Jais Mountains. 150km after the start in Ajman, the climbers and puncheurs will fight for general classification on the 20km-long uphill finish of Jebel Jais, with its 5% average gradients.
The Grand Finale, on March 2 delivers a spectacular parade entirely in the city of Dubai. The Dubai Stage (145km) starts at Dubai Safari Park and finishes at the City Walk district with what is expected to be a bunch sprint.
The UAE Tour jerseys will be provided by one of the cycling industry’s leading brands, Castelli, the supplier for both the Dubai and the Abu Dhabi Tours.
The four different jerseys are made using a high-tech fabric supplied by SITIP that is both UV-protective and allows for a very rapid rate of heat dissipation.
There are four colours, one for each classification, starting with the most prestigious: red, for the leader of the general classification.
General Classification: worn daily, starting from stage 2, by the leader of the General Classification by time.
Points Classification: worn daily, starting from stage 2, by the fastest sprinter, who has obtained the best positions in each stage and intermediate sprints.
Young Rider Classification: worn daily, starting from stage 2, by the best young rider born after 1st January 1994 in the overall classification (U25), the name to watch out for in the future.
Intermediate Sprint Classification: worn daily, starting from stage 2, by the rider who gained more Intermediate Sprint Points than any other rider.