Behind the scenes with the United Arab Emirates national team

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by Dave Everett

The start of the season seems to be getting busier and busier. The off-season for many professionals seems to be a few weeks at home to unpack the previous season’s kit, sling it on eBay and repack for the obligatory team training camp and then head out to the first race of the season.

Before the UCI pushed forward with the globalisation of cycling the season openers were held in Europe, races like Tour Med or Paris-Nice where you’d catch the big guns of the peloton kicking off the season. But over the past 15 years and especially the past seven, the start of the season has been creeping further forward. Australia, Oman, Qatar and Argentina are now where you’re more than likely to see the stars of the sport kick off their new racing campaign.

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New events are being promoted in many non traditional cycling countries. The promise of guaranteed good weather draws the cyclists; the promise of good promotion of the area (for a relatively cheap cost) encourages the organisers and the UCI to further develop the sport in these areas. These are just a few of the reasons we’re seeing more of these early season races pop up.

One such event is the new Dubai Tour. Announced last year and organised by RCS Sport, the group behind the Giro d’Italia, the race hit the UCI circuit in a big way, with a stellar line up and great organisation.

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Like several events throughout the season, national squads are sometimes allowed to mix it up with the big boys of the sport. And for the Dubai Tour this was no different, lined up alongside the likes of Taylor Phinney, Rui Costa, Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan was the United Arab Emirates national team.

Unlike all the WorldTour and ProContinental teams who are all full-time professionals, the UAE squad is made up of government employees, students and airport workers, all part-time cyclists, all balancing training and work. All out on their bike,s putting the hours in at crazy times of the morning and night due to the excessive heat.

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For the guys the Dubai Tour was one of the major races of the season; a chance to test themselves against the worlds best.

The UEA national cycling federation and sport council seem keen to push the sport forward, with plans on a new outdoor velodrome with a federation HQ built alongside. The talk of bidding for the Olympics in 2024 and the Dubai Sports City that keeps increasing its facilities over its 50 million square feet show that the money is there to be spent on sporting infrastructure and development.

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Like most things in Dubai, when they dream, they dream big. The first step on this cycling and sporting journey is to place one young rider in the professional European ranks. Several of the staff I spoke with felt that there is currently one stand-out rider that could realise this, the young Yousef Mohamed Mirza. Perhaps some of of the guys on the current UAE team may be experienced pros come 2024. But for the time being the team were on a steep learning curve.

The day I spent with the team came out of the blue. Unlike a lot of the larger pro teams the guys from the UAE team seemed keen and happy to have a last-minute tagalong on the stage. You could see that all involved, staff and riders did it for the love. They didn’t expect huge results, they were level-headed and knew what the team was capable of.

I was amazed to find out that many of the staff, director, manager and mechanics had been involved in racing for well over 20 years each. They would have been among the few guys who pioneered the sport in the region before the influx of Europeans to move to Dubai to live and work. These guys were just as seasoned at knowing how to handle themselves in the convoy, the standard driving with one knee while handing a bottle up, talking on a mobile and a race radio simultaneously. It was all there.

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