UAE National Champion Yousif Mirza returns to action following a successful ride at the Tour of Egypt where the Emirati picked up an impressive Stage win.
The 30-year-old, who won the Asian Cycling Championships last season, was dominant in winning stage five at Aswan last weerk,
The Ras Al Khaimah native will provide support at the Giro di Sicilia for General Classification hopeful Kristijan Durasek.
Joining the team will be Jan Polanc, Simone Petilli, Ivo Oliveira, Roberto Ferrari and Juan Sebastian Molano.
The Giro di Sicilia debuts on the UCI calendar this year and provides spectators in Southern Italy a chance to get a taste of road racing ahead of the Giro d’Italia this May.
The four-stage race will play out across the hills of Sicily, with Stage one setting off from the town of Catania on the east coast of the island.
Polanc knows this climb extremely well, having won the Giro d’Italia stage here in 2017.
“It’s always beautiful for me to return to Sicily and above all, to Etna. I’d like to repeat that show that gave me the Giro win,” he said.
“I like that climb and my condition after Tirreno-Adriatico is still good. I’m not going to be under any sort of pressure, but I’ll ride with optimism and courage.”
Mirza added: “I maintained my race rhythm that I had at the UAE championships, so I’m going to be heading to Sicily with good form. The team is competitive, and I’ll try to give my best and of course, and I’m motivated to race in Italy.”
It was the Norwegian’s second victory of the season – having picked up a stage win at the Tour of Oman in February – and he did so in a stylish fashion. Strong winds throughout the race had pulled apart the peloton, and with just 5km to go, a breakaway group of four riders threatened to take the spoils.
But a reduced chasing group caught them with less than a kilometre to go and a bunched sprint became inevitable. As the riders powered their way into the final 200m, Kristoff held the perfect position alongside some of cycling’s most decorated sprinters.
But with teammate Fernando Gaviria also in the mix, 31-year-old Kristoff launched his final attack with 100m to go; leaving the lead group in his wake and crossing the line a metre ahead of his nearest rival.
Kristoff said: “I remained at the front of the group with Gaviria. At 10 kilometres out, we spoke and agreed that I would make this sprint and try to win. In the sprint, I was the strongest and that’s even if I was a little bit tired but all the riders at the front of the group raced hard and fast from the start.
“I pulled out a big win that carries a lot of weight in the spring classics. The team has improved a lot and I’m benefiting from the work that I’ve done with my trainers and with training rides a little shorter but more intense, and the results are starting to show.
“The change is paying off. I’m also content because I feel my condition is improving and it’s a good signal ahead of the Tour of Flanders.”
The victory gives UAE Team Emirates its first big classic one-day race win and their eleventh victory of the season.
Fernando Gaviria and Alexander Kristoff will spearhead UAE Team Emirates’ charge for glory at Gent-Wevelgem (March 31), with the pair looking to pick up one-day race honours in Belgium.
Gaviria has looked in fine fettle since joining the Emirati formation for the 2019 UCI WorldTour season, and secured a podium finish in his most recent outing at Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne.
Meanwhile, Kristoff continues to be a driving force for the team as one of their most experienced and accomplished riders. Joining the sprint duo will be Simone Consonni, Marco Marcato, Ivo Oliveira, Norwegian national champion Vegard Stake Laengen and compatriot Sven Erik Bystrom.
Considered as a Belgian classic for the sprinters, Gent-Wevelgem will see riders embark on a tough 251.5km route through the Flanders Fields. While the distance provides its own test, it’s the riding and weather conditions which can have a bigger impact on how this race is played out.
With ten steep climbs across cobbled and unpaved roads, riders face a difficult day at the saddle – particularly in the final 30km where the wind has the potential to play a significant factor in the outcome of the race.
But should riders have luck on their side, a thrilling sprint finish could be in store to end another epic day of racing in Belgium.