The UAE has become a focal point for cycling in recent years with two professional Tours in the shape of the Abu Dhabi and Dubai Tour (the Tours will merge from next season) as well as the much-loved Spinneys 92 amateur race. The country is also becoming an increasingly popular destination for tourists from around the globe on specialist cycling trips. Last year the local cycling community received another boost with the announcement that the UAE had pledged sponsorship to take over the Lampre-Merida cycling team with Emirates Airline signing on as name-rights sponsor. UAE Team Emirates was born and the team set out to represent the Nation by helping to promote cycling throughout the Middle East. We sat down with Team Manager Carlo Saronni to gather his thoughts on their debut season as UAE team Emirates and what lies in store in the coming months and years.
SFME: How did UAE Team Emirates start?”
Carlo Saronni: Our sports group had been supported by the Lampre Company for many years until the team had a new configuration with the Chinese project TJ Sport in 2017. The transition over to TJ Sport and starting a World Tour team under the same name entered an unfortunate moment with the chairman of TJ Sport falling ill and unable to process the deal. It was then that the Emirati dream came to light. Due to the increasing passion for cycling in the UAE and the hard work of our business manager Mauro Gianetti we were able to create the project of a World Tour team under the UAE flag.
SFME: Do you think this team can create a buzz around the UAE and help inspire more people to take on cycling?
CS: Of course. This is one of the main things our riders and staff members strive towards. We have all worked in the cycling world for a period of time and there’s nothing better than knowing that while you’re working, you’re inspiring somebody to take a ride on a bike. When we first visited the UAE, we were surprised by the amount of passion there was for cycling. We now have to show the rest of the world this passion and make people realise that the UAE is a top destination for cyclists and cycling tourism.
SFME: How do you feel your first season went as UAE Team Emirates and what have you learnt going forward?
CS: Our riders rode with passion and we felt the team was competitive all season-long which was encouraging to see. We all learnt that we now represent a Nation. When we are wearing the teams colours we have a lot of responsibility on our shoulders to represent them accordingly, this gives us extra motivation to succeed for the people of the UAE. Although we were very competitive we do have some regrets with some of our second place finishes we obtained in the stages of the Giro d’Italia and in the Tour de France that could have been victories.
SFME: You have made some promising signings including former U23 World Champion Sven Erik Bystrom. Do you think the fact that you guys are setting up a new project excites them to try a new challenge?
CS: Yes, of course, all the riders who have joined our team are happy and proud to not only be part of a cycling group, but a larger project in which cycling has a key role in the health of the Emirati people.
It’s clear to all the riders that we look forward to improve the team’s quality year by year as we aim to become one of the world’s top teams in the near future.
SFME: Do you feel the team can challenge in the Major events such as the Tour de France?
CS: Yes, I think our recent signings show that we mean business. Last season we got a feel for the skills of our riders that were already on our roster. This year we have signed some top riders to compliment them as we look to get some good results in the Major Tours.
SFME: What are your aims for the team within the next five years?
CS: A victory in a major Tour is obviously the main goal that we are working towards. If we achieve that it will give our project extra value which would be great. Achieving it won’t be easy and there will be plenty of steps we have to take before we get there but we know our riders will fight hard for the team and the UAE.
D.O.B : 15/07/1989
Fun fact: His full name is Diego Armando, like Maradona, who was his father’s football hero. The first choice would have been Michel, after Michel Platini, but his mother didn’t approve!
SFME: At what age did you first get into cycling?
DU: It all came from my father, who won an Italian title as a Mountain Bike rider. I used to go with him to the cycling races and when I was 7 years old I decided I would like to give it a go, so I began racing for my hometown team, UC Donoratico.
SFME: Who was your sporting idol as you grew up?
DU: In cycling, Paolo Bettini (2004 Olympic gold medallist), we lived a few kilometres from one another and my cycling skills were similar to his ones. Outside of cycling, Juventus midfielder Claudio Marchisio. He is one of my favourite players, I would have loved to become a professional footballer and play with him!
SFME: What’s the craziest thing to happen to you during a race?
DU: Some years ago, I was racing the queen stage of the Tour de San Luis, in Argentina. I was riding down a descent when suddenly I noticed that the road, in the approach of a turn, was shining. I had just enough time to realise that the shining was coming from the water of a car crossing the road and I slid and fell. My team’s press officer collected a series of pictures which a photographer shot when I crashed; they showed the sequence of my crash. It’s a sort of souvenir especially because I didn’t sustain an injury.