Fernando Gaviria, who made headlines during the 2018 Tour de France for his two emphatic stage wins, will pull on the UAE Team Emirates jersey for the first time this Sunday as he gets his 2019 season under way at the Vuelta a San Juan.
The rising Columbian sprint superstar will be supported by an Italian quartet of riders including Simone Consonni, Valerio Conti, Oliveiro Troia and the highly experienced Roberto Ferrari in Argentina. The six-man team will be completed by another new signing, the promising young Swiss talent Tom Bohli.
The seven stage race begins on Sunday with a 159.1km out-and-back route from San Juan to Pocito. The flat stage only features two small climbs – over the Alto de las Vacas – and culminates with a slightly downhill run in to the finish line, perfectly setting the scene for an exciting bunch sprint on the first day of racing.
Gaviria said: “I return to Argentina and San Juan with gusto. I have great memories with my victories, although last year I had to quit after falling.
“In 2019, I hope to match the successes of the two previous years. It will also be my debut with UAE Team Emirates and it is obvious that I would like to start on the right foot and with the hope that it will be a great season for me and my new team.”
Stage 2 from Chimbas to Punta Negra will be a test for the legs. The 160.2km route takes the peloton up and over the 960m high Alto Punta Negra four times during the day, before ascending the Peri Lago Punta Negra climb for a gruelling summit finish 1,000m above sea level.
Stage 3 is one for the specialists, a short and straight 12km Individual Time Trial (ITT) over a pan flat course in the town of Pocito.
Stage 4 features the first big mountain of the tour, halfway along the 185.8km route from San Jose Jachal to Valle Fertill. The peloton will ascend one category three and two category one climbs as they make their way to the summit 1,510m above sea level.
The remainder of the race is a downhill charge to the line – with over 80km of near-constant descending.
Stage 5 features another summit finish atop the iconic Alto Colorado, standing 2,565m above sea level. Before the peloton reaches its destination it will have to ascend one category three and two category two climbs on a punishing route that involves well over 2,200m of climbing.
Stage 6 will be a welcome sight for the sprinters after two days in the mountains. The 153.5km route is all but flat, starting and finishing in the Autodromo Villicum where the fast men will battle for the sprint points title.
The peloton returns to San Juan for the seventh and final stage; a nine lap, 141.3km criterium in the centre of town that will provide fans with an exciting and action packed spectacle to end the tour.
The team will be guided through the Vuelta a San Juan by Swiss sports director Simone Pedrazzini.
UAE Team Emirates got their 2019 UCI World Tour season off to a flying start by winning the team classification at the Tour Down Under.
The seven-stage race in Australia, which ended on Sunday, awards the team competition title to the team with the best combined time after each stage.
Diego Ulissi led the way for the victorious UAE team in the General Classification, finishing ninth overall, 40 seconds behind winner Daryl Impey of South Africa.
Tadej Pogacar was next best-placed for the Emirati formation, finishing 13th, with Jan Polanc in 17th.
As well as their successful team finish, UAE Team Emirates enjoyed a stage win with Jasper Philipsen clinching stage 5 after a sprint finish into Strathalbyn.
“It was a beautiful result for UAE Team Emirates. To get on the podium as the best team in the first World Tour race of the year is amazing,” said sports director Neil Stephens.
“Today we achieved more goals that we were after. We wanted to take the team classification but to try to be in the best possible spots in the individual classification.
“We achieved that considering that we have three riders in the top 15 of the classification, with Ulissi in the top 10.”
UAE Team Emirates will next be in World Tour action at the inaugural UAE Tour which gets underway in Abu Dhabi on February 24.
When you’re 32 and going into your 12th year as a professional, your beloved sport may not hold the same excitement for you that it once did.
But despite being closer to the finish line of his cycling career rather than the beginning, Dan Martin admits he’s “never been so excited” ahead of his 2019 campaign.
And who can blame him. The Birmingham-born climber is coming off the back of a 2018 in which he won a stage at the Tour de France on his way to an eighth-place finish overall – impressive considering he was bumped down to 24th after a horrific crash which left his back “looking like a pizza” on Stage 8.
Despite finishing outside the top three places in the General Classification, he actually got to climb the podium in Paris after he won the Combativity award, given for aggressive riding.
He turned down an offer from Team Sky as well as rumoured interest from Bora-Hansgrohe, BMC Racing Team, Team Katusha-Alpecin and Trek-Segafredo to sign with UAE Team Emirates last year.
The Middle East team go into their third campaign on the UCI WorldTour amid a hum of excitement with the likes of rising Colombian sprint sensation Fernando Gaviria and climbing compatriot Sergio Henao joining a stellar cast, including Alexander Kristoff, Fabio Aru, Rui Costa, as well as Martin.
#UAETeamEmirates 🇦🇪 season debut in Australia 🇦🇺. Check our complete line-up for the @tourdownunder and after the @CadelRoadRace :@sebystrom 🇳🇴@IvOliveira96 🇵🇹@JasperPhilipsen 🇧🇪@TamauPogi 🇸🇮@PolancJan 🇸🇮@rorysutherland1 🇦🇺@DiegoUlissi 🇮🇹#TourDownUnder #CadelRoadRace pic.twitter.com/feAjD47cIA— @UAE-TeamEmirates (@TeamUAEAbuDhabi) 8 January 2019
Martin’s Stage 6 win from Brest to Mur-de-Bretagne – an inaugural triumph for UAE Team Emirates at Le Tour – was followed by their second on the final leg, the iconic Stage 21 parade which turns into a sprint along the Champs-Elysees, claimed by Norwegian Kristoff.
And after a decent debut with his new team, Martin is predicting even better things to come for a squad impressively replenished in the off-season.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to start a season,” said Martin, who represented Ireland at both the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games.
“It’s a long, long season. And obviously the adaption to the new team took a lot out of me too. This year though I think you’ll see a very different team.
“All the mistakes we made at the start of the year that led to us not having the results we wanted, we’re learning and we’re making a huge step forward. I think the UAE is at the forefront of science and technology in the world and right now we’re bringing the team to that level.
“We’re going into this year with a lot stronger team as well as the scientific side behind the scenes, which will make a huge difference. So we’re excited.”
Even though he may wonder what might have been had he not crashed on Stage 8, Martin insists he looks forward to what can be achieved in 2019 rather than what could have been achieved last year.
“It (finishing eighth overall) doesn’t make me want to do better, it just gives me more belief we can podium and maybe even win the Tour,” added the man who began his professional career with Slipstream-Chipotle in 2008.
“I think a lot of teams have become complacent and maybe this team was at the start of the year. But now, this year, we’re going to be one of the best teams in the world. Hopefully it’s sure to lead to improved results.”
A year for a professional cyclist is a long and grueling one. Riders typically have less than a month off as an off-season. When the WorldTour begins for Martin, UAE Team Emirates and the rest of cycling’s top tier on Tuesday with the Tour Down Under in Australia, it concludes with the Tour of Guangxi on October 20.
Even Martin’s off-season couldn’t have been that relaxing. He and wife Jess – a long-distance runner who competed at the 2016 Summer Olympics for Britain – welcomed twin daughters Daisy and Ella into the world on September 19 – “so it won’t be much of a holiday”, Martin admitted to Sport360 while in the UAE towards the tail end of 2018 at a winter training camp, which involved visiting various UAE schools.
“It’s a very exciting period in our lives and it will inspire me even more this year,” he added.
Martin himself was born five weeks prematurely and suffered from asthma as a child, so some would say he was destined for a life at the pinnacle of a sport that is one of the most demanding on the body.
It seems even more inevitable given he was also born into a family of thoroughbreds among the sport. His father Neil is a former pro who was a member of the Great Britain team at the 1980 and 1984 Olympics.
Meanwhile, his uncle, Stephen Roche, was crowned Tour de France and Giro d’Italia champion in 1987 and is one of only two cyclists, alongside the legendary Eddy Merckx, to win cycling’s Triple Crown – Le Tour, Giro and the World Road Race Championships – in the same year.
Roche’s son Nicholas – Martin’s cousin – is also a pro, acting as a domestique for Tom Dumoulin at Team Sunweb in 2019.
But even though he was around the sport and one of its giants from an early age, Martin insists he simply caught the bug, rather than any expectation to tow the family line.
“I was exposed to it from an early age. It was on television all over the house and watching my dad go out to race every day, but there was also no pressure to take it up. It was only enjoyment,” insists Martin.
“A lot of people put professional cyclists on a pedestal, but to me it was just normal to ride in or even win the Tour de France. Being a professional cyclist was never something that was unachievable.
“I hope that’s something these kids draw from, we’re just normal guys. We’re not anything special. OK, we’re good at riding bikes but it comes from training, hard work and riding from an early age.
My 3 girls. Cannot explain how I feel right now. I would like to introduce you to Daisy and Ella Martin, born at 9:31 and 9:32 this morning. All are doing very well. pic.twitter.com/jzQzvxgtmq— Dan Martin (@DanMartin86) 19 September 2018
“It does make it a lot easier when you grow up around it and surrounded by people who understand cycling. But it’s a lot easier if you enjoy it and create that passion from an early age. That obviously translates into success later down the line.”
As for emulating the achievements of uncle Steve and finishing his career with a yellow jersey to his name, Martin admits it would be nice, but he’s also proud of what he’s already achieved.
“I don’t have much contact with him to be honest. But he’s incredibly proud,” Martin said of his famous uncle.
“What we did in the Tour this year, I’m incredibly proud of. Obviously we could have done things smarter, but winning a stage was fantastic.
“It was a relief too because we didn’t have a great start to the year but the Tour is where it’s at and the Tour is maybe what will inspire some of these kids to take up cycling.”