Inaugural UAE Tour adds to growing legacy of cycling in the Emirates, says Saeed Hareb

Matt Jones 13/03/2019
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Primoz Roglic won the inaugural UAE Tour.

The successful hosting of the inaugural UAE Tour is further evidence of the country’s ability to stage the biggest sporting events in the world, according to event organisers.

Cycling’s popularity over the last few years in the Emirates has increased exponentially, helped by the creation of UAE Team Emirates – formerly Lampre-Merida – which was made possible by financial backing from the UAE.

It helped the country gain a seat at cycling’s top table, on the UCI WorldTour, in 2017.

The first Dubai Tour was held in 2014 with the inaugural Abu Dhabi Tour staged a year later, while the Al Qudra bike track as well as Abu Dhabi’s Formula One track at Yas Marina Circuit, have both become focal points for keen amateur cyclists in the UAE.

This year, the Dubai Sports Council and Abu Dhabi Sports Council joined forces to create the UAE Tour, a bigger and better event that was held over seven days and visited all seven emirates.

Saeed Hareb (l) is secretary general of the Dubai Sports Council.

Saeed Hareb (l) is secretary general of the Dubai Sports Council.

Slovenian rider Primoz Roglic – of Team Jumbo-Visma – claimed victory earlier this month following the culmination of the event after Stage 7 at Dubai’s City Walk.

And after successful, previous Dubai and Abu Dhabi Tours, HE Saeed Hareb, secretary general of Dubai Sports Council, believes the UAE Tour was a huge positive for the country.

“I’m really very happy to see this race, especially for the first time under the one flag, the UAE Tour,” he told Sport360.

“This is very, very important, to send a message to the world that we can organise races of this caliber. It’s not individual like before, Dubai or Abu Dhabi or Sharjah. It’s under one umbrella. This has happened and I think everyone was satisfied and happy with the race. This is our aim.”

Many of the top names in cycling competed at the Tour – including Elia Viviani, Marcel Kittel, Mark Cavendish, Fernando Gaviria, Alejandro Valverde, Tom Dumoulin and Vincenzo Nibali – and Hareb insisted they all preferred the longer, jointly-organised event.

“I met most of them and they are happy,” he said.

“They said a seven-day race is better than shorter days and previous, individual races.

“All the riders had raced before in Abu Dhabi and Dubai and we joined them all together. They knew exactly what to expect. We did our homework. With the police involved and all the volunteers, we worked together.

“Before, we were individual events, there was a gap. Now the riders love the longer race, seven days, it’s continuous. Not a four or five-day event but it’s a longer one and they prefer that.

“It’s more fulfilling and entertaining because the race is not finished on the first day. We made it more balanced. Flat or mountain, this is a good thing.

“In the UAE we have different conditions to other countries but even in a hot country, at this time of the year, we have different conditions. On Jebel Jais it was freezing and long, not easy. This is what the riders wanted.”

Elia Viviani wins Stage 5 of the UAE Tour.

Elia Viviani wins Stage 5 of the UAE Tour.

The race began with a time trial on Abu Dhabi’s Al Hudayriat Island while there were three sprint stages, a mixed Stage 4 from Palm Jumeirah-Hatta Dam as well as two mountain stages.

The Dubai and Abu Dhabi Tours have proved hugely popular in recent years and led to an increased interest in cycling, with UAE Team Emirates’ creation and Emirati rider Yousif Mirza on board also adding to the lustre of the sport.

And Hareb hopes the new event will continue to add to the positive legacy being created by cycling in the Emirates.

“I think we will see an increase in the community of cycling. This is big,” added Hareb.

“The government will build more infrastructure and routes because of the race.

“There is already a big area in Al Qudra, where riders can race without cars alongside them. In Abu Dhabi there’s the same thing in Al Hudayriat, where we had a stage.”

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Rui Costa and Fernando Gaviria taking on Tirreno-Adriatico with UAE Team Emirates

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Rui Costa captains the team in Italy.

Tirreno-Adriatico – known as the ‘Race of the Two Seas’ – kicks off on Wednesday, March 13, and provides a seven-man UAE Team Emirates squad with seven days of racing through some of Italy’s most beautiful and challenging terrain.

The week-long route weaves its way from the Tyrrhenian Sea on the west coast of the country to the Adriatic on the east and offers a mix of climbs, bunch sprints and time trials.

Waiting in the wings to take on the mini Giro d’Italia is an international mix of talent captained by the experienced Portuguese stage racer Rui Costa, Swiss time trial specialist Tom Bohli and Columbian sprinter Fernando Gaviria, who tasted success in 2016 and 2017 with stage wins in both editions. The Italian trio of Simone Consonni, Valerio Conti and Oliviero Troia finish off the squad along with Slovenian General Classification rider, Jan Polanc.

Gaviria said: “It’s a beautiful race where I’ve been able to celebrate twice. The team is designed for the stage wins, and I’ll try to be competitive in the sprints.

“As well as fighting for the stage wins we want to do well in the overall classification too. It’s a great team and everyone has good legs so we are confident. The race design has changed somewhat from past years, so it’ll be interesting to see how this influences the race.”

Fernando Gaviria won a stage at the UAE Tour recently.

Fernando Gaviria won a stage at the UAE Tour recently.

The race begins with a 21.5km Team Time Trial  (TTT) along the promenade of Lido di Camaiore – the traditional start town of Tirreno-Adriatico. This is followed by Stage 2, which travels 195km from Camaiore to Pomerance with a series of rolling climbs along the way. Stage 3 is a long 226km ride across central Italy that is designed to feature a sprint finish in Foligno.

The 4th stage is another long day in the saddle with 221km of riding between Foligno and Fossombrone. The route is laden with steep climbs on narrow country roads and the final 20km features a double ascent of the Muro dei Cappuccini before a 5.6km downhill run to the line. Stage 5 is another lumpy ride for the peloton – a 178km route from Colli al Metauro to Recanati – which ends with a circuit around the arrival town.

The 3.6km climb to the line tops out at 19 per cent and has to be tackled no less than four times. The penultimate stage provides a final chance for the fast men to show their strength in another bunch sprint finish after a 195km ride from Matelica to Jesi.

The race ends on day seven with the traditional fast and flat 10km ITT in San Benedetto del Tronto.

The team will be guided by four sports directors including Joxean Fernandez Matxin, Marco Marzano, Allan Peiper and Bruno Vicino.

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Sergio Henao won Paris-Nice in 2017.

UAE Team Emirates are sending a strong squad to Paris-Nice for what is arguably the first major European stage race of the year.

The event is nicknamed the Race to the Sun, as it runs in the first half of March, typically starting in cold and wintry conditions in the French capital before reaching the spring sunshine on the Cote d’Azur by the end of the week.

This eight-day long slog from the outskirts of France’s capital city to the Mediterranean shores is as diverse as it is debilitating – its route peppered with pitfalls and exposed to the unpredictable weather that is so often a factor during the early parts of the season.

To tackle the challenge, UAE Team Emirates will send a seasoned squad of riders including General Classification contender and former Italian national champion, Fabio Aru.

The 2018 Colombian national champion, Sergio Henao, also has his eyes firmly fixed on a podium place in the climbers stages and will be supported by Diego Ulissi who favours the lumpy terrain in these races. Henao, 31, was a winner of this event two years ago while riding for Team Sky.

For the sprint stages, Norwegian powerhouse Alexander Kristoff will lead the charge after showing his early season form at the UAE Tour. The team will be backed up by Marco Marcato, Rory Sutherland and Sven Erik Bystrom – a rangy rider whose breakaway capabilities were showcased to the world in 2018 when he narrowly missed out on a stage win at the Vuelta a Espana.

The team will be guided by a trio of sports directors including Simone Pedrazzini, Neil Stephens and Paolo Trialongo.

Team manager Joxean Fernández Matxin said: “We’ll be at Paris-Nice with Henao, already an overall winner. It’s his first European race of 2019 after he began in the tour of Colombia.

“Diego Ulissi, who rode well in the UAE Tour, will ride at his side and Fabio Aru will compete without pressure to perform in the classification. The team is balanced. We can count on a good group of riders to support. Kristoff will aim for the first three stages that suit sprinters.”

The race begins in the Yvelines region for the 10th year in a row, with a flat opener around Saint-Geramin-en-Laye that will provide Kristoff with an early opportunity to take to the podium.

The second and third stages, to Bellegarde and Moulins, respectively, will also favour the fast men, although the flat and exposed terrain opens up the race to a continuous risk of echelons.

The terrain becomes slightly more rugged on Stage 4 from Vichy to Pelussin, with four climbs in the final 60km, including the short but steep Cote de Condrieu. The category two Cote de Chavanay is just 10km from the finish and offers an obvious springboard for late attacks.

Stage 5 introduces the individual time trial which will take place in Barbentane and – as always – will define the state of play ahead of the race’s mountainous finale. While the 25.5km route includes a climb to the abbey of St Michel de Frigolet around the mid-point, it will still favour the specialists.

The following day’s stage to Brignoles has a rolling route that lends itself to long range attackers before a closing weekend that brings the race onto far more challenging roads. Stage 7 from Nice to the Col de Turini is 181.5km in length and features six climbs, with a big focus on the final two ascents as the race enters the Alps.

The category one Cote de Pelasque (5.7km at 6.2 per cent) is followed by the Col de Turini. At 14.9km in length with an average gradient of 7.3 per cent, it will be a stage that highlights the form of the GC riders at this early point in the season.

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