UAE Team Emirates backing Atapuma in Vuelta a San Juan
One year on from the UAE Team Emirates' first victory by Rui Costa atop the Alto Colorado, the squad will return to the Vuelta a San Juan seeking similar success with a new crop of riders. Tour de Suisse stage winner Darwin Atapuma will head the six-man squad for the UCI 2.1-ranked race in Argentina, but the team are also hoping for some surprises from his lesser-known teammates.
UAE Team Emirates formed out of the Lampre-Merida team following the failure of the Chinese-backed Project TJ Sport, but despite their rocky beginnings they gelled into a cohesive unit that racked up 19 victories in 2017 and finished the season ranked a respectable 12th of 18 WorldTour teams. The squad is looking to improve on that record, and brought in several heavy hitters through last year's transfers.
Although new star recruits Fabio Aru, Dan Martin, and Alexander Kristoff will not be heading to Argentina, directeur sportif Joxean Fernández Matxin is hoping to impress with Atapuma, Moroccan Anass Ait El Abdia, Yousif Mirza, Alexandr Riabushenko, Filippo Ganna and Oliviero Troia.
"Even though our big leaders won't be in Argentina, let there be no doubt that we're going to do well," Matxin said in a team press release. "Of the six, Atapuma is probably the most famous, but I also have a lot of faith in the young riders.
"Riabushenko has a promising, bright future; he reminds me a lot of the Frenchman [Julian] Alaphilippe. He is quite complete and a real 'killer' who, among other things, won the under-23 European Championship in 2016 and the Piccolo Giro de Lombardía in 2017," Matxin explained. "El Abdia is one of the best riders in Africa and has won his country's National Championship as well as the Tour of Morocco."
UAE national champion Yousif Mirza, too, is accomplished in smaller races, having won the national title several times and taking second place in the Asian championships. Of the Italians, Matxin says, "Ganna has shown tremendous talent on the track, where he has been individual [pursuit] World Champion, but he has also won the Paris-Roubaix Espoirs so he shows considerable promise," Matxin said. "The individual time trial in the Vuelta a San Juan will go very well for him."
Troia, he said, is "a very fast rider who last year was already second, behind [Max] Richeze, in the Vuelta a San Juan stage that finished in Pocito."
Matxin is new to UAE Team Emirates, having reached an agreement with Quick-Step Floors' manager Patrick Lefevere to end his contract. "I had renewed my contract for another two years," Matxin said. "But since UAE Team Emirates was quite insistent, Patrick Lefevere, to whom I will always be grateful, let me take advantage of the opportunity."
He had been acting as a talent scout for the Belgian team, but will be a directeur sportif with UAE Team Emirates and hopes to raise the level of the squad. "I have to admit that when I got here, the 2018 team was already formed, I hardly had any input," he says, but has an eye on the future. "Staying ready to take on the competition and keeping our feet firmly on the ground, the mid-term objective is to become the best or one of the best teams in the World."
Amstel Gold Race extends with Maastricht, Valkenburg
The organisers of the Amstel Gold Race have extended the contracts of its host start and finish cities for five years, through 2022. The race will continue to start in Maastricht and finish in Valkenburg.
Maastricht has been a host of the race since 1991, when it held the finish before also adding the start in 1998. The former flat finish was changed in 2003 to Valkenburg, where from 2003 until 2012 it ended at the top of the Cauberg. The finish has since been moved beyond the top to the municipality of Berg en Terblijt, 1.8km beyond the summit.
Maastricht alderman John Aerts was pleased to keep the race start in his town. "The start of the Amstel Gold Race means an economic boost for Maastricht in the form of visits to the city center and overnight stays,” he said to the ANP.
Valkenburg alderman Jan Vermeer welcomed the agreement, which will keep the finish line on the Rijksweg between Berg en Terblijt and Vilt. "The Amstel Gold Race and Valkenburg aan de Geul are inextricably linked. Every year it is one of the highlights of our city’s events,” he said.
Vino plays a prank
Astana's general manager Alexandre Vinokourov decided to challenge his riders by playing a prank during the team's training camp in Calpe, Spain, disguising himself as an old man, then attacking the group on a climb.
Their pride too strong to let an 'old man' leave them behind, the riders set off in pursuit only to find, at the top, that they'd been chasing their boss.
Astana Pro Team general manager Alexandr Vinokurov decided to prank the riders: in the guise of an old man he joined the riders at the training and showed his class, passing everyone on the climb #AstanaProTeampic.twitter.com/DYB8Ykuedc— Astana Pro Team (@AstanaTeam) January 18, 2018
Viviani wins Tour Down Under stage 3 - Video highlights
Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) won the third stage at the Santos Tour Down Under ahead of Team Sunweb's Phil Bauhaus and overall race leader Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott). Watch video highlights from the stage below.