The second of this year’s Grand Tours – the Tour de France – may have ended, but the racing season is still very much alive for UAE Team Emirates as they send a squad packed full of exciting Italian talent to back up their star sprinter Fernando Gaviria at the Tour of Poland (August 3-9).
Gaviria returns to racing after a prolonged absence due to a knee problem and will be looking for success in the sprint finishes, along with Diego Ulissi who is also targeting stage victories.
The team will be guided across the seven stage tour by Sports Directors Marco Marzano and Bruno Vicino.
Gaviria said: “The Tour de Poland will be a significant event for me, since it will mark the return to racing after the forced stop due to knee problems.
“I’m looking forward to savouring the atmosphere of the race and I’m curious to see what level I can sustain having recently done a block at altitude.”
Ulissi added: “Taking part in the Tour de Pologne is always a pleasure and it’s a race that motivates me. I’m going here with the goal of fighting for a stage win. The route this year will be particularly challenging, to be in with a shot we will need to be consistent everyday.”
UAE squad: Fernando Gaviria (Colombia), Diego Ulissi, Simone Consonni, Valerio Conti, Manuele Mori, Simone Petilli, Edward Ravasi (all Italy)
Sir Dave Brailsford’s seventh win in the last eight editions of the Tour de France felt all the sweeter given he began the season wondering if it might be his last.
On Sunday, Egan Bernal became the first Colombian to win the Tour, continuing the run of success Brailsford has enjoyed both as Team Sky and now Team Ineos principal – albeit this time with a different accent as Bernal became the team’s first non-British winner.
When Sky announced in December they would pull their funding for the team at the end of the 2019 season, Brailsford considered walking away from the sport.
Instead, new backing arrived from Britain’s richest man, Sir Jim Ratcliffe, with the team relaunched as Ineos in May.
“There were obvious questions about whether we would find a new owner, and whether the timescale would allow us to prepare another challenge to win the Tour,” Brailsford said.
“I resolved to give it our best shot, and switching the team from Sky to Ineos midway through the season was a huge undertaking.
“Three months later, here we are with another yellow jersey.”
Ratcliffe’s takeover was not universally popular, with environmental protestors turning up at the Tour de Yorkshire to voice opposition to his company’s fracking operations. It was yet another controversy for Brailsford to face.
In March last year, a Parliamentary committee concluded that Team Sky had crossed an “ethical line” in their use of permitted medications in order to enhance performance.
Brailsford said that had an impact on him at last year’s Tour, in which Geraint Thomas delivered a popular victory which went a long way in boosting the team’s image after a damaging period.
“During the Tour last year, I was angry,” Brailsford said. “I felt like I was in a fight the whole time. I was stewing.
“Maybe age helps but this year I’ve felt a lot calmer. I don’t feel any less competitive but I’ve been a bit more measured and I’ve stopped fighting everybody.”
If Thomas’ victory proved popular, particularly with the team’s British base, 22-year-old’s Bernal triumph could have an even bigger impact around the world.
Cycling-mad Colombia has been waiting for decades to celebrate a Tour victory, and the scenes around the Ineos bus in the Place de la Concorde on Sunday night showed the outpouring of emotion.
Fans were massed along the pavements singing and shouting late into the night, hailing the youngest winner of the Tour since 1909.
Brailsford has spent plenty of time in Colombia and has a track record of signing some of their brightest prospects, with the 21-year-old Ivan Sosa the next potential star in the ranks.
“We’ve had Colombians in the team pretty much all the time, from Sergio Henao to Rigoberto Uran and Egan,” he said. “I’ve maintained a very close working relationship with the Colombians as a cycling nation. For them, this will be seismic.”
Cycling is one of the most physically demanding sports on the planet and very few races on the professional calendar are as challenging as the Tour de France.
On July 6, eight riders from UAE Team Emirates set off to tackle three weeks, 21 stages, five summit finishes and nearly 3,500km of road racing at the 106th edition of not just cycling, but one of sport’s most iconic events.
It was a Tour designed to test even the most accomplished bike rider and – with 30 categorised climbs, six of which went above 2,000m in the final three mountain stages – it did just that.
UAE Team Emirates headed out to France in good shape. Both General Classification leader and stage hunter Dan Martin, and sprinter Alexander Kristoff were full of confidence, while Fabio Aru was looking stronger every day as he fought back from a leg surgery earlier in the season. However, it was not to be UAE Team Emirates’ year after two stage wins in 2018 and an eighth-placed overall finish for Martin.
Despite getting two men inside the overall top 20 the team’s riders were unable to produce the same level of performances that delivered a remarkable two stage wins and an award for most combative rider (Martin) the previous year.
After finishing 18th in the GC, Martin said: “The 2019 Tour de France was definitely the hardest Tour I’ve done.
We captured the beauty of #Paris on the final stage of #TDF2019 🇫🇷, thank you for the amazing support over the last 3 weeks! #UAETeamEmirates #RideTogether #YearOfTolerance— @UAE-TeamEmirates (@TeamUAEAbuDhabi) July 28, 2019
📸: @bettiniphoto | @PhotoFizza pic.twitter.com/SpywoHsgAs
“We knew when the route was released that it was going to be tough but the conditions and high level of competition really added to it this year.
“Every day we had a new challenge – wind, the mountains, forty degree heat and even landslides. It was never boring for sure and we’re glad it’s over now so we can rest up and prepare for the next races.”
Martin is one of the most determined and committed men in the peloton, and he’s a rider that likes it when the going gets tough. This year his form didn’t quite match that of his stellar 2018 performances, but he is already looking to the future.
“It’s been a strange Tour for me,” he added. “Obviously I came in with really good condition and for whatever reason it just didn’t happen, but I am going to work with the team and come back even stronger.”
Aru, who finished just above Martin in 14th spot, was able to take a lot of positives from his experience: “During the Tour my performances improved steadily but I was still a bit behind the top GC guys,” said the Italian, winner of the 2015 Vuelta a Espana and twice a podium finisher at the Giro d’Italia.
“I consider this a good test, so now I’ll take a short rest and will get ready for my next block of races.
“Stage 20 was a good stage for me. After three weeks of racing, we went full gas for the whole two hours and I was able to sustain the pace. This is a positive sign for me and will help my progression.”
Although it was billed as the highest Tour in history, there were also a good selection of technical flat stages for the fast men to contest, with the competition for sprint wins as fierce as it has ever been.
Kristoff managed to earn himself four top 10 finishes, including a second place, where he narrowly missed out on the Stage 4 win to Elia Viviani (Deceuninck Quick-Step). Known as a rider that gets stronger as the Tour goes on, Kristoff was hoping to relive last year’s Champs Elysees success by taking the final stage in Paris.
However, luck was not on his side and the Norwegian powerhouse experienced a mechanical issue with just 2km to go.
Another UAE Team Emirates rider, young up and coming Belgian talent Jasper Philipsen, the youngest rider in the field, showed his form after holding his own with some of the world’s best sprinters.
He came into the race as Kristoff’s leadout man and his remarkable efforts were rewarded with three top 10 finishes – an impressive feat for a 21-year-old taking part in their first ever Grand Tour, during their WorldTour season debut.
Overall, the 2019 Tour was not only the most open and exciting edition that fans have experienced in recent history, but a race that every single one of the riders and team staff enjoyed.
For UAE Team Emirates, it is now onwards and upwards as all eyes focus on their next stage race in Poland. The team heads there with a formidable line-up, including both Diego Ulissi and superstar Fernando Gaviria. The Columbian fast man is gunning for a stage win after taking a few months out of racing to recover from a knee injury.
Meanwhile, his team-mate Ulissi is also looking to take a win on one of the uphill finishes – a finale that always seems to suit his characteristics well.