UAE cycling team are seen with the organisers and sponsors during the media launch at the Crown Plaza, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi on Tuesday. Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Big bucks were the need of the hour and that has come in with Emirates Airline jumping in as the major sponsor of pro-cycling Team UAE Abu Dhabi, who took over Italian Lampre-Merida at end of last season.

The deal has thus provided the much need thrust to team riders, comprising Rui Costa, Louis Meintjes, Ben Swift, Diego Ulissi, Andrea Guardini including UAE’s Yousuf Mirza, ahead of the Abu Dhabi World Tour that gets underway here on Thursday.

The team will be now known as UAE Team Emirates and the jersey along with the UAE flag colour — green, white, black and red — will prominently sport Emirates on the chest. Along with Emirates, are two new sponsors — ADS Securities and International Golden Group.

The new sponsor was presented at a press conference close to the Yas Marina — the headquarters for the Abu Dhabi Tour — the four-day race which is the part of the 2017 World Tour calendar.

“We are thrilled because this is very big sponsor, so it was a pleasant surprise for us,” said team captain Costa, adding that the big brand also brings in more responsibility.

“Emirates is a big name and we have to live up to that. We will do our best as usual in order to achieve the best possible result,” asserted Costa, who comes in for the inaugural World Tour in the capital, at the back of two stage wins at the Tour of Oman.

“My performance in Oman was at a good level and I’m in good shape for the race. However, the level of the riders here will be high. Nevertheless, I’m upbeat about battling for good result. Me and my team will try and give our best to get some success here straight away,” added Costa, the 2013 UCI Road World Champion. The team’s British sprinter Swift, who ended a seven-year long stint with Team Sky last season was also at ease after learning about the developments.

“I was looking forward to this team and with Emirates coming on board, it is a fantastic opportunity. It is nice to have a fresh start,” said Swift adding that the meeting with the owners was enough to put the phantoms to rest.

“I wasn’t that worried but I had confidence that everything will get sorted out. Now we are a very stable team and it is also a big boost for the sport as a whole. I had a chat with the owners and they are super happy. They are approachable and they love the sport and want us to go out there and do our best which makes a huge difference,” said the 29-year-old.

Team President Matar Suhail Al Yabhouni Al Daheri, speaking on the occasion said that his aim was to see the team in the ‘top three’ in three years.

“We are looking to be in the top 10 team, go step by step, look for top 10, then the year after more like top five. We’re aiming, slowly but surely, to be top-three next in the three years. I’m confident in my management and riders to reach that in three years,” said Al Daheri, who was present along with team manager Giuseppe Saronni and team promoter Mauro Gianni, who got the UAE owners on board after the Chinese deal failed to materialise.

Shaikh Majid Al Mualla, the divisional senior vice-president of commercial operations at Fly Emirates, speaking at the briefing said, that Emirates sponsors a wide range of sports including football teams in Europe, golf tournaments and horse races and that they see this as a another ‘opportunity’.

“Emirates has always been involved in sport. However, in the last two years, cycling has seen a tremendous growth, in terms of fans and people watching it here. We felt this team is the best to associate ourselves and it’s a huge opportunity to present United Arab Emirates as a country.”