Yousif Mirza’s debut with the newly-formed UAE Abu Dhabi team ended with a respectable 13th-place in the Dubai Tour and he also captured Tag Heuer’s “Don’t Crack Under Pressure” award.
The 28-year-old is the first Emirati cyclist to ride for a WorldTeam and he made sure he enjoyed a successful campaign on home soil.
Mirza crossed the finish line in 21st place in Saturday’s fifth and final stage and he was pleased with how things went throughout the fourth edition of the race. He had taken part in the Dubai Tour in previous years but only as part of a UAE national selection side or as the leader of Continental Team Nasr-Dubai, which no longer exists.
He has now made a step up to the big leagues after Abu Dhabi invested in a WorldTeam that was previously under the Lampre guise.
“It’s been an invaluable experience, and a very new one as well. From a professional standpoint, from a technical standpoint, it’s been a novel experience from every angle,” Mirza told Sport360 of his UAE Abu Dhabi debut.
“The strategy for each stage, how to deal with a stage race like this, where to be placed within each stage… Every rider has a role and task – what is your exact role? That is something I’ve lacked in the past.
“My task for stage one was just to finish the race, in the second stage my target was to be in the breakaway, the third stage my role was to help my team at the finish line, stage four was canceled and stage five the goal was the breakaway.”
Mirza was unable to feature in the breakaway yesterday but still made the podium twice – once with UAE Abu Dhabi for winning the team classification, and once to receive his Tag Heuer prize.
“It’s the first time for me to be honoured on a podium amongst such great riders like the ones we have here so it’s a special feeling,” he explains.
“I feel great now, it’s mission accomplished as far as the Dubai Tour is concerned. Thankfully I finished 13th overall in the GC, which is a fantastic achievement, for myself as a rider, and for UAE cycling in general.”
Mirza next heads to the Tour of Oman, which starts on February 14, before returning to the UAE for the Abu Dhabi Tour (February 23-26).
“I love racing in this region, it’s what I’m accustomed to, the weather and everything. Europe is a whole other story. I must get used to that. I know I will. The training camp we had in Italy was very cold. Taking 45 minutes to get ready and wear warm clothes before you to be prepared for the weather… Europe will be a different challenge,” he said.
UAE Abu Dhabi sport director Orlando Maini hailed Mirza’s efforts at the Dubai Tour and stressed it was important not to overwhelm the Emirati rider with too many high targets from the start.
“We are aware that Yousif owns the skills which are suitable to face this new challenge for him, we’re aware of his good qualities. But it’s important not to put too much pressure on him in these early appearances with the team because it’s important that he can exploit his skills without pressure. We’re aware that race by race, without pressure, he’ll be comfortable with this new level of racing for him,” said Maini.