The Ardennes Classics continue on Wednesday with UAE Team Emirates announcing a stellar line-up to take on La Fleche Wallonne and the fourth Monument of the season, Liege–Bastogne–Liege.
Spearheading the team of seven riders will be Dan Martin. The Irishman picked up victory at Liege–Bastogne–Liege in 2013, and has finished in the top 10 at La Fleche Wallonne a remarkable five times – three of those being podium finishes.
He will be supported by former world champion Rui Costa, as well as Sergio Henao – who finished second in this race in 2013 – Manuele Mori, Rory Sutherland, Tadej Pogacar and Diego Ulissi.
La Fleche Wallonne is a one-day classic for the climbers. The 195.5km route from Ans to Huy circumnavigates the suburbs of Liege, with riders facing a relentless number of climbs; 11 in total.
The majority of the climbs come in the latter part of the race and with 77km to go the peloton will need to keep something in reserve as the race organisers have added two extra climbs into the final circuit for 2019.
The winner of La Fleche Wallonne is often defined by the final climb – the Mur de Huy. The 1.3km slog hits gradients of 26 per cent at its steepest and only those with enough gas left in the tank are likely to conquer it.
Riders have three days to recover before they get set for their final test of the Classics season, Liege–Bastogne–Liege. The 256km route starting in Liege is one of the oldest bike races on the UCI WorldTour. This will be the Monument’s 105th edition having first been hosted in 1892.
Like La Fleche Wallonne, there will be 11 climbs in total, most of which come on the return leg from Bastogne to Liege. There are four climbs in particular which will be stern challenges for the peloton; The Wanne, Stockeu, Haute-Levee and the Cote de Mont-le-Soie.
The finish line for the 2019 edition has moved to the centre of Liege and, should a group emerge from the fast descent at 5km, the thousands of spectators gathered to witness the final kilometres of ‘The Old Lady’ can expect a gripping sprint finish.
Commenting ahead of the race, sporting director Joxean Fernandez Maxtin said: “We face the Ardennes Classics with a formation that offers so many possibilities to be protagonists and to fight for important results: winning is very difficult because these races are coveted and the competition is at a high level, but our team is well balanced and equipped well for our ambitions.
“Daniel Martin is a reference point for these races, he will focus on the Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. For Pogacar, this week will be an important experience, he will race without pressure and will have the chance to measure his talents in these races, while the experience of Mori and Sutherland will be important in Fleche and Liege.”
Following the success of academies run across Dubai and Abu Dhabi over the past 12 months, the UAE Team Emirates Youth Academy has announced plans to initiate phase two of the cycling initiative.
The academy is set to roll out in three different schools across Abu Dhabi – Al Rabeeh School, Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Boys and ADNOC Sas Al Nakhl – throughout the months of April and May.
The sessions will see over 50 hours of coaching delivered by qualified cycling instructors to more than 300 youngsters between the age of 8-11, focusing on key elements of fitness, bike handling and technique.
The academy will culminate in a cycling showcase in Abu Dhabi on Saturday, May 4.
The latest announcement reiterates the team’s ambition to encourage the next generation of UAE cyclists. It also follows a largely successful trial run of the academy at Aldar Academies Al Yasmina School in October, where over 100 youngsters aged 5-15 participated in a clinic and had the chance to meet the team’s star riders including UAE national champion, Yousif Mirza, and 2018 Tour de France stage winners Alexander Kristoff and Dan Martin.
Commenting on the youth academy, team president Matar Al Dhaheri, said: “The UAE Team Emirates Youth Academy has already impacted the lives of hundreds of youngsters across the Emirates and we are thrilled to be able to build on the foundations we’ve created over the past 12 months.
“With the right programme and delivery, we truly believe that the UAE Team Emirates Youth Academy has the potential to be the bedrock of youth cycling in the UAE.”
إنه اليوم الأول لأكاديمية فريق أبوظبي للشباب. استعدوا ليوم حافل! 🚴🏻♂️🇦🇪🚴🏻♀️ pic.twitter.com/T5xT3RU0R5— @UAE-TeamEmirates (@TeamUAEAbuDhabi) 16 April 2019
The sessions will be tailored to each child’s individual needs, while improving their all-round cycling ability. Some youngsters will also have the opportunity to learn from Emirati rider Mirza.
He became the first ever cyclist to represent the UAE at the Olympic Games and has achieved recent success with the UAE national team, picking up a stage victory at the Tour of Egypt.
The Emirati star will offer advice and guidance to the youngsters and share his success story in the hope of inspiring them to take up cycling.
The first session of the three-week initiative started at Al Rabeeh School on Tuesday, April 15. Phil Yates, assistant head teacher at Al Rabeeh, said: “We are very excited to welcome the UAE Team Emirates Youth Academy to our school; this offers a brilliant opportunity for our students to take their interest in cycling to the next level, under the guidance of professional trainers fully committed to advancing our student’s skillset.
“We also believe that regular exercise can have an extremely positive impact on the physiological and psychological health of our students, so look forward to welcoming the academy over the coming weeks.”
Al Dhaheri added: “The UAE Team Emirates Youth Academy is aligned with the government’s health and wellness objectives in that we are striving to instil a sense of healthy living in our future generation and encourage them to lead more active lifestyles.
“With new cycle lanes and tracks being developed at a rapid rate, the opportunities for cyclists are endless. While UAE Team Emirates plays a fundamental and aspirational role for any young cyclist, the UAE Team Emirates Youth Academy can be the start of an amazing journey that could potentially results in a future at the top of the sport.”
The UAE Team Emirates Youth Academy will visit schools on the following dates:
Al Rabeeh School (April 23 & 30); Sheikh Zayed Private Academy for Boys (April 17, 24 & May 1); ADNOC Sas Al Nakhl (April 18, 25 & May 2).
UAE Team Emirates’ preparations are underway for what is arguably the most famous and toughest one-day race of the UCI WorldTour calendar – the Paris-Roubaix on April 14.
The line-up is led by the in-form Alexander Kristoff, who picked up a race victory at Gent-Wevelgem and a podium finish at the Tour of Flanders. He will be joined by Colombian sprinter Fernando Gaviria, who makes his Paris-Roubaix debut following his recent outings at the Belgian Classics. The pair are joined by Jasper Philipsen, Marco Marcato, Tom Bohli, Sven Erik Bystrom and Norwegian National Champion, Vegard Stake Laengen.
The race is dubbed a ‘Sunday in Hell’ or ‘The Hell of the North’ – and the 257km route is just that. While the opening 95km doesn’t throw up too many obstacles for the peloton, it’s the second half of the race where the action really begins.
At 96.5km, riders encounter the first of 29 cobbled sections of the course, and it’s here where they will begin to fight the elements; bumpy cobbles, dusty roads and narrow streets all have potential to wreak havoc.
In total, there’s over 54km of cobbled roads, with three significantly bumpy sections given a five-star rating for difficulty. These sections will undoubtedly pull the group apart as they make their way towards the finish in Roubaix. History shows that a bunched sprint finish is highly unlikely, but a thrilling battle between a small group of riders should be on the cards, played out in front of the thousands of spectators that pack into the world-famous Roubaix Velodrome to witness the final metres of the races.
Commenting ahead of the race, UAE Team Emirates’ General Manager Joxean Matxin said: “Considering the good run of our cyclists, we can look towards Paris-Roubaix with optimism. Our wish is to close the northern classics campaign with a significant result. Alexander Kristoff will captain our team. He has been very effective so far and wants to set the record straight in Paris-Roubaix after a fall last year. We will have riders at his side to offer a great contribution and Fernando Gaviria who, despite debuting in the race, has the necessary talent to go strongly.”