Yousif Mirza is adamant UAE Team Emirates can reach the summit of professional cycling this season and win a Grand Tour event.
The Emirates-based team enjoyed a solid debut campaign on the UCI WorldTour in 2017, finishing 12th out of the 18 teams, having been added to the roster along with Bahrain-Merida, who claimed 14th place.
The team, set-up from the ashes of professional cycling veterans Lampre-Merida, boasted 2013 world champion Rui Costa among its ranks last year, as well as Louis Meintjes who claimed eighth-place in the General Classification at the Tour de France for a second successive year.
This year, the team added reigning European champion Alexander Kristoff as well as 2015 Giro d’Italia champion Fabio Aru, not to mention 2013 Volta a Catalunya and Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner, Dan Martin.
And even though South Africa’s Meintjes has left to join Team Dimension Data, based in his homeland, Mirza believes UAE Team Emirates are assembling a roster capable of winning one of the big three races – Le Tour, Giro or the Vuelta a Espana – this year.
“You can feel and see that the team is improving. We have brought some strong riders for the GC of a Grand Tour and our goal is to win a Grand Tour this season,” the Emirati stated defiantly after helping his team to a podium place at his home race, the Dubai Tour, where Team UAE finished third in the group standings behind BMC and Katusha-Aplecin.
“It is something the whole team, riders and staff feel is achievable.”
The likes of Chris Froome at Team Sky, Tom Dumoulin of Team Sunweb, BMC’s Richie Porte, Movistar’s Nairo Quintana and Bahrain-Merida’s Vincenzo Nibali are likely to be the main protagonists for Grand Tour glory in 2018, but with Aru now as a team-mate, Mirza feels the second-year team are much stronger than a year ago.
“We have added Fabio and Alex and I think now our chances to win a Grand Tour are enhanced, why not,” he said. “You can see what we have and that we can compare ourselves with other teams.”
Even if the 29-year-old does not get the chance to make his Grand Tour debut and be a part of the teams heading to Italy, France and Spain later in the year, Mirza insists he and the whole squad would cherish Grand Tour glory.
“I want to represent my team and my country. And even if I am not part of the team that goes to a Grand Tour, it will be enough for me if I see the flag of my country on top,” he added.
“It is my dream to see my flag on the TV from when I was a kid. It happened last season and I think it will happen more this season.”
Mirza himself feels a year on board a team at cycling’s elite level has moved him on as a rider. And he played a big part of Kristoff’s support team in Abu Dhabi that saw the Norwegian narrowly miss out on a podium place.
📸 Do you remember all the best moments of 🇦🇪#DubaiTour this week?— @UAE-TeamEmirates (@TeamUAEAbuDhabi) 10 February 2018
Check out the full photo Gallery on our website➡️:https://t.co/7yhp3d0FzS #UAETeamEmirates
📷: @bettiniphoto & @PhotoFizza pic.twitter.com/AaFwDjMmCk
The 30-year-old earned four top 10 finishes on his debut for the team in Dubai, crossing the line in fourth place twice and seventh place twice – with a crash on the final bend of Stage 5 on Saturday ruining his chances of another, and a possible podium, as he had to settle for 58th and ninth overall.
Italian youngster Filippo Ganna, meanwhile, started the season on a bright note with a third-place finish at the Vuelta a San Juan in Argentina, another indication to Mirza that the UAE are moving in the right direction.
“After competing in Argentina and here in Dubai, I have really noticed the improvement in riding from the team,” he added.
“The quality of riding and our morale is very high and that means we’ll fight during the season to achieve top results.”
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