Dubai: As Tour de France champion Tadej Pogacar takes a well-earned rest, the experienced Diego Ulissi and Fernando Gaviria will lead the UAE Team Emirates challenge into the Giro d’Italia, the second Grand Tour of the year, that gets under way from October 3.
The eight-member team go into the race with many options with Gaviria the main protagonist for the sprints, while Ulissi, Valerio Conti and Joe Dombrowski have all put in strong performances in past editions of the Corsa Rosa.
Ulissi, the 31-year-old Italian rider, has been outstanding after winning six individual stages in the four editions that he has participated so far. In June 2011, Ulissi recorded his first major professional victory winning Stage 17 in his first appearance at the Giro after Giovanni Visconti was relegated for improper sprinting. Ulissi and Visconti were part of a breakaway that survived to the end of the hilly stage, and Visconti shoved Ulissi during their sprint to the finish line.
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During the 2012 season, Ulissi again raced at the Giro and was placed fourth in the young rider competition.
In 2014, Ulissi won two stages with a late attack on Stage 5 that saw him move past and win against a group of stage and General Classification favourites. After serving a doping-related suspension that ended in March 2015, Ulissi returned strongly to win Stage 7.
In 2016, Ulissi added another two stages in at Giro with the Italian breaking away from the leading group to beat Tom Dumoulin by five seconds on Stage 4, and then outsprinting race leader Bob Jungels in the closing metres to win Stage 11.
The Italian couldn’t hide his enthusiasm heading into the Giro this year. “I’m excited heading into this year’s Giro. Without a clear GC leader, we have a lot of freedom and have the strength to try different things on both the flat stages and the hilly days. My preparation has been perfect up until now,” Ulissi said.
“I finally managed to convert my consistency into wins at the Tour of Luxembourg and I’ll be keen to repeat that feeling again. We have two very young talented guys in Brandon [McNulty] and Mikkel [Bjerg] who are doing their first Giro and it will be nice to try and help them and share my experience.”
Colombian Gaviria, who turned 26 in August, has also had success in Italy winning five individual stages in the two editions that he has participated in 2017 and 2019.
In 2017, Gaviria justified being named in the start list for the Giro while winning Stage 3 from Tortoli to Cagliari in a sprint finish and taking the lead in the general classification in the process. Gaviria achieved further success by winning Stages 5, 12 and 13 in bunch sprints, making him the first Colombian to win four stages in a single Giro d’Italia.
Matxin Fernandez, who will be the manager of the squad, was pleased with the combination of the squad. “This team was put together with various considerations in mind. We want to give young Brandon McNulty a chance to shine and see what he can do, but without any pressure or concrete goals other than to give his best for the team,” Fernandez said.
“We have Diego and Valerio Conti as our trusted veterans who will have freedom to move and both know what it takes to win at the Giro. Mikkel Bjerg will slot in to help Fernando Gaviria go for wins and work with Richeze and Molano as part of the train for the fact finishes. Bjerg will also get his chances in the time trials along with McNulty who is also fast against the clock,” he added.
One of the highlights this year will be the presence of Olympic and World Championship athletes who have given prestige to Italy with their performances around the world. These athletes have been named Ambassadors of the Corsa Rosa 2020, and each of these ambassadors are scheduled to attend a stage of the Giro d’Italia, starting with figure skater Carolina Kostner in Palermo on Saturday [October 3] and ending with wheelchair fencer Bebe Vio when the race concludes in Milan [October 25].
The 2020 Giro d’Italia will consist of 22 teams with all 19 UCI World Teams entitled, and obliged, to enter the race. Additionally, another three second-tier UCI Professional Continental team have been invited to participate.
The 2020 Giro d’Italia — also known as the Grande Partenza — was initially scheduled to take place from May 9 to 31 as the 103rd edition. But the event had to be pushed forward due to the coronavirus for a start with a 15km individual time trial from Monreale to Palermo on October 3, and a conclusion after covering 3,496 kms, in Milan, on October 25.
UAE Team Emirates squad
Brandon McNulty (USA); Fernando Gaviria (Colombia); Max Richeze (Argentina); Joe Dombrowski (USA); Sebastian Molano (Colombia); Diego Ulissi (Italy); Valerio Conti (Italy); Mikkel Bjerg (Denmark). Manager: Matxin Fernandez (Spain); Sports Directors: Marco Marzano (Italy), Bruno Vicino (Italy), Paolo Tiralongo (Italy)