Yousuf Mirza.
UAE National champion cyclist Yousuf Mirza. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: Yousuf Mirza has several firsts to his name. And among these, the Khor Fakkan-born cyclist wants to see the younger crop of Emirati riders to capitalise on his legacy on the international stage in the near future.

“I need someone to carry forward the work that I have started,” Mirza told Gulf News as his UAE Team Emirates landed in Dubai for a host of end-of-season commitments in Dubai and Abu Dhabi this week.

Winner of multiple UAE National titles along with a silver medal at the 2015 Asian Cycling Championships that made him the first UAE rider at an Olympic Games the following year in Rio, Mirza now wants to step aside after a second Olympic presence in Tokyo next year. “I have no doubt that there are many young Emirati riders who are capable of making it to an Olympics after me. The UAE Team Emirates, in fact, has a project and every year they see who is capable of being a top-class rider. They are working on that at the moment and I am confident that it won’t be long before we discover new riders who can represent the UAE at an Olympic Games possibly by 2024,” Mirza said.

Making his Olympic debut, Mirza was prominent among the lead riders during the early part of the 237.5km road race at Rio 2016. Eventually, the UAE rider was pushed back and was not given a classification due to exceeding the race’s time limit.

This time, however, Mirza needs to take an alternate qualifying route while picking up points based on his performances at various races to confirm his place at Tokyo 2020. So far, he’s been a part of the UAE Team Emirates participation in the Tour of Oman, Tour of Sicily and two series on the Hammer circuit in Denmark and the Netherlands, among other races. But he still needs a better total to seal his place in Tokyo.

“The last time [Rio 2016] was different and now it is going to be different. I had qualified for Rio after my silver at the Asian Cycling Championships in New Delhi, whereas this time I broke my collarbone during the Tour of Turkey and couldn’t participate in the Asian Cycling Championships. So I’ve got to now take the longer route of accumulating points and a world ranking to ensure I qualify for Tokyo,” Mirza said.

“For me, the season is far from over as I’ve got to consider every event to collect enough points by the time the qualifying for Tokyo ends. I can see myself having this slender chance and I want to make a second appearance so that this can be the standard for our junior cyclists of the future.”

The 31-year-old was confident he can achieve his goal for Tokyo 2020. “Both Rio and Tokyo will be totally different for me. Now, I will have four additional years’ experience as a professional with one of the best teams and that can certainly mean a lot. This aspect gives me a lot of confidence as well, and I want to put all this to good use and see how UAE cycling benefits,” Mirza said.

“But I need to be practical as well. Finishing among the top bunch of riders at Olympic Games can be a great result for the UAE at the moment. This can then lay a marker for the younger generations.”