Dubai: What started as a personal vision and ambition on the shores of China a few years back has today paid dividends across untold global platforms in the world of cycling.
Former Italian cyclist Giuseppe Saronni dared to start what is today called the UAE Team Emirates — the latest champions of the Tour de France.
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In August 2016, Saronni set up the team and called it Lampre-Merida. A little later, it was confirmed that its World Team licence was being transferred from CGS Cycling to Chinese company, TJ Sport Consultation, with the team becoming the first Chinese World Tour team starting in 2017.
Mauro Gianetti, the former team manager at Saunier Duval-Prodir was announced as the coordinator for the entire project. Saronni later confirmed that he and CGS Cycling would continue to manage the team on behalf of TJ Sport with the bicycles for the team supplied by Italian bike manufacturer, Colnago.
Gianetti indicated that the project was being coordinated by the Chinese Government via TJ Sport with involvement from a number of Chinese companies, including Alibaba with the of developing Chinese cycling and riders.
But, when UCI, the world governing body for cycling, awarded 17 World Tour licences to teams in November, it announced that TJ Sport’s application was ‘under review’ by its Licensing Commission. As per Saronni, the reason for the delay was that the head of the TJ Sport project, Li Zhiqiang, had fallen seriously ill, which prevented funding for the project from being advanced, forcing him in turn to look at sponsorship elsewhere.
And that is when the team rebranded as UAE Abu Dhabi with the UCI confirming a new World Tour licence in December. In February 2017, the team announced that Emirates airline had come on board as a naming-rights sponsor to finally be called UAE Team Emirates. The journey had begun.
“The new challenge is to represent a whole nation of the UAE, which are strongly interested in promoting cycling and in presenting as a top level sports and cycling hub,” the team had promised at the launch in Abu Dhabi on January 4, 2017.
On Sunday, less than three years later, UAE Team Emirates will be left to celebrate perhaps one of the biggest moment in their history and in sporting moments as 21-year-old Slovenian rider Tadej Pogacar climbs the podium near the Champs-Elysees to become the youngest winner in more than 100 years of the Tour de France, cycling’s biggest and most famous race.
The action unexpectedly unfolded on Saturday when Pogacar dramatically overhauled a 57-second deficit off countryman Primoz Roglic to become not just the toast Slovenia, but of the UAE and the entire cycling world after landing the most famous of cycling’s majors.
A truly crowning moment of glory for a team that has been built and constructed into one of the finest.