With nine career titles to his name and 30 victories in total to date, Yousif Mirza is the most decorated road cyclist in the history of the UAE. The UAE Team Emirates rider, who also has 12 road titles, is currently training for the 2022 Grand Prix du Morbihan and 2022 Tro-Bro Léon in France. After this he will be going to the Gulf Games 2022 in Kuwait and will be representing the UAE National Team. “I will be there from the 19th of May until the 29th and am looking forward to this new event in the region,” he tells Gulf News.
But we are currently in the holy month of Ramadan, so how does the 2018 winner of the Asian Cycling Championships make time for training and fasting? “It is a quite a juggling act,” he laughs. “Cycling is not easy, without energy we cannot move. Think of it like a car without fuel – it won’t drive and it is a similar case with cycling. After Iftar and the Taraweeh prayers I start my training at 9pm and do 3 to 4 hours every night. This is how I keep fit in Ramadan.”
Spending time with his family is also very important during the holy period “The times goes by so fast during Ramadan. There is so much to do what with preparing a meal to break the fast, attending the night prayers, and then of course, my training routine. But I love to spend time with my family and my children. We do activities in the house and I try to educate them about the meaning of this blessed month.”
The benefits of exercise during Ramadan from a mental, physical, and social perspective are well documented and Mirza, who rides up to 700km a week, says he burns around 2,400 calories with each ride. But that is nothing. “During races we burn around 5,000 calories,” says the 33-year-old.
It is one of the toughest sports and when asked if he wishes he would have taken up something else, he says, “I have always been in love with cycling since I was 9 years old when I used to dream of becoming a star in this sport and race in Europe, America, Australia and every part of the world. When I joined UAE Team Emirates in 2017 I went from being an amateur to a professional. It was a dream come true.”
It was a brave decision to take up cycling when he did as not too many people back then knew much about it. “In school my friends would laugh at me because the kit was so tight,” he recalls. “They thought it was dangerous to be out on the streets on a bicycle but I didn’t let them discourage me and kept at it. It wasn’t easy to get to the level I am today - there were many difficult challenges along the way but I am proud of what I have achieved for myself and for my country.”
Since joining the UAE Team Emirates his target is to win a race in Europe. “Inshallah I will achieve this,” says the fastest man on two wheels in the UAE and the first Emirati to be a member of a World Tour team. Mirza, who’s cycling idol is Alberto Contador, and who sometimes trains with Mark Cavendish when the Brit is in the UAE, has won multiple national titles as well as winning the silver medal in the road race at the 2015 Asian Cycling Championships. It won him qualification for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil and he’s pleased with the way the current season is going. “I attended a training camp in Spain last December where we drew up plans for the season and my first race was in Saudi Arabia in February. Then the next one was in Oman and I did really well in both of these races and helped the team. Every year for me it is a new experience and I am really proud to be a part of the team. It has taken time to adapt but I am pleased with the way it is all going,” he says.
He was delighted at winning the UAE National Cycling Championships again this year and clearly loves the event having now won it every year since 2010. “12 consecutive victories - I think this is a record, I don’t think anyone has achieved this. I also set a new average speed record for the UAE of 48.6kph in 35km which I was very pleased with.”
Cycling's popularity in UAE
Cycling in the UAE has become more and more popular and there are several specially designated locations around the country for people to get on their bikes in complete safety and get a good workout. Mirza has played a key role in its growth. “We are trying to inspire the next generation and we are helping them by visiting schools and educating them about cycling. I think we will see many more professional riders in the future from the UAE. They all want to play football which is fine but we want to involve them in cycling, that is our mission. It is a healthy sport and we have so many facilities here in the UAE.”
Looking ahead to the rest of the season, there are many targets but one stands heads and shoulders above the rest. “Our next race is the Giro however the main target is to win the Tour de France,” says the Ras Al Khaimah native. “We want to keep the jersey next July. We will all do our best to support Tadej Pogacar and we hope to win it again and get him his third title. I will be doing my best to make the team but there are only 7 spots and we have 13 riders. We have a training camp in June and then the technical staff and director will choose the 7 riders.”
If Mirza continues to break records in Middle Eastern cycling, he surely will be one of the first names on the team.