Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Sports Council, met the UAE cycling team members on Monday. Image Credit: WAM

Abu Dhabi: UAE Team Emirates’ cyclist Dan Martin can’t wait to return home after winding up the season with some promotional events in the UAE capital.

More than the much needed break, Martin is longing to be with his newborn twins and his wife, former Olympic long-distance runner Jess Martin.

“I’m looking forward to a little bit of a holiday as I have got newborn twin daughters, Daisy and Ella, less than six weeks old. I want to be with them and spend some quality time,” said Martin after a clinic with the kids from Al Yasmina Academy.

“Being with the twins will definitely be an inspiration and hopefully I can come out strongly when the season gets underway in January,” said 32-year-old Birmingham-born Irishman, who was pretty pleased with the way his season ended on the UCI World Tour, including a stage win at the Tour de France.

“We didn’t start off well into the season but Tour de France was a big one. We managed to show the jersey and show UAE and I would say we did it justice. We had a lot of time showing the jersey in a good light. We made a lot of people here proud and that is most important,” said Martin, who was confident of the team taking giant strides next season having invested a lot in upgrading their fire power.

“We will be making a lot of improvements for sure. We have learnt a lot from this year. The mistake we made at the start wasn’t the results we wanted. UAE is one of the strongest countries in the world with regards to technology and science and I would say we are now putting that into the team. So that should help us become the best team in the world,” said Martin, who is aware that doing well on the UAE Tour — comprising of seven stages — will be top priority.

“I have not taken part in the UAE Tour and next year will be my first. We are aware it is a very important one for all of us and for me. It is a special one for the people here and it will be great to have the UAE crowd behind you. Lots of fans were happy to see us do well in Tour de France,” he said.

Norwegian Alexander Kristoff rated his season as ‘average’ but felt the saving grace for him was winning the final stage at the Tour de France.

“I would say my season was average but I started okay with winning a stage in UAE. Then I had some victories in Oman but then I got a bit sick in the Classics, which were my major goals, and didn’t really perform as I would have hoped.

“The performance in the Belgium Classic was more disappointing. Thereafter, I improved by the time for the Tour de France with Dan Martin winning early and then I won the last stage. I would say that the win in Paris saved my season as it was a dream for me in many years to win a stage and it finally happened,” said Kristoff, who felt the team has been boosted with the signing of Colombian sprinter Fernando Gaviria.

“We have a lot of young talent coming in and Gaviria’s presence will be huge plus. The signings have improved with every year and it is getting more international I would say. It will be exciting to work with Gaviria and split the races between each other. For sure, next year will have a better season,” said the 31-year-old.

UAE’s homebred cyclist Yousif Mirza felt the highlight of his season was winning gold at the Asian Championship in Myanmar last February.

“I was well prepared for the Asian Championship but the Asian Games was really disappointing. I was a marked man at the Asian Games and the others targeted me and changed their tactics. I was given good cover by my teammates but the plans can change in the races. It was also an uphill finish which doesn’t suit me. It was very hard for me unlike racing on the flat,” said Mirza. “I have learnt a lot and I’m constantly working hard to improve. We now have a new plan and strategy for next year and I’m ready for that. In this sport, everyday one needs to be positive.”