UAE Team Emirates general manager, Carlo Saronni, has told Cyclingnews that his vastly improved squad will fight on a number of fronts next year, and that Fabio Aru and Daniel Martin will aim for Grand Tour podium spots at the Giro d'Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana.
Saronni also looked to calm the tension with Astana's manager, Alexander Vinokourov, saying that UAE's contract with Aru was fair and above board. Vinokourov had claimed that Astana will seek damages after Aru decided to depart the team at the end of this season, leaving the Kazakh team short of a Grand Tour leader.
UAE Team Emirates has been one of the busiest teams in the transfer market. They signed Martin from Quick-Step Floors, Aru from Astana and Alexander Kristoff from Katusha. Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Merida), Louis Meintjes (Dimension Data), Andrea Guardini (Bardiani-CSF), and Marko Kump (CCC Sprandi Polkowice) have all departed but Saronni – thanks to increased investment from the team's sponsors – strengthened the team in almost every department.
"Next season we'll have three great captains in Aru, Martin and Kristoff. We'll also have Rui Costa and Diego Ulissi but to be the best team in the world we need time, maybe another season or two," Saronni told Cyclingnews.
"We don't want to stand still and we're following other riders for the future. Next year we want to be a top-10 team, and then the year after we can look towards the top five, top three, and then in 2020 we want to be a very top team that has won a Tour de France or another Grand Tour."
Grand Tour plans
Next year's Grand Tour plans revolve around Martin and Aru. Both riders signed multiple year contracts with the team, and the likely Grand Tour scenario will involve Aru targeting the Giro d'Italia, with Martin looking to improve on his sixth place finish at the Tour de France. In 2017, Aru skipped the Giro d'Italia due to injury but bounced back to win a stage, wear yellow, and finish fifth overall in Paris.
"I think that it's possible to be on the podium in Grand Tours next year. Maybe we don't yet have the teams to support that 100 per cent but we have good guys and some young talents. That challenge won't be easy but I think it's achievable. We saw this year that without his crash, Martin could have been on the Tour podium.
"The first impression is that Daniel had a great Tour and Fabio also did well there too. Fabio is an Italian rider and he'll look at the Giro but just because he's Italian it doesn't mean he will do the race. Maybe we'll have them both at the Tour but one possible calendar for Fabio could be the Giro, Vuelta and then the World Championships, with Dan targeting the Tour de France. That's just a first opinion though. We'll have to see."
No reason for Aru contract conflict
Saronni and his riders will not formalise their race plans until the Giro route is unveiled in late November but Aru has already been put under the spotlight due to reports that Astana will seek damages after he decided to leave the team.
According to reports, Aru and Astana had an option to renew their existing deal but the Italian never signed it, leaving him free to move to another team after the UCI's August 1st deadline.
"Officially we signed with Aru in August," Saronni said. "To arrive at that point we had some discussions with his agent beforehand. For me there's no question because we didn't work on Fabio's pervious contract, we only worked on the plan for next year. I can't say anything about the previous agreement because I don't know. The deal we have was a normal one and it's for the next three seasons. It a standard agreement that we have with all our other riders and there was no problem from our side."
Now signed for three years, Aru has a team that believes they can deliver him to Grand Tour success. The Italian won the 2015 Vuelta a Espana but has not been able to replicate that results since. Along with signing riders to help his new Italian leader, Saronni has brought in the Sardinian's former teammate Paolo Tiralongo as an assistant director sportif.
"Fabio has shown that he's one of the guys who can fight at the top level with Nibali, Froome and Quintana," Saronni said.
"He's not old, he's under 30 so he has time on his side to get better. We believe in him and we'll give him all he needs to grow into one of the best riders for Grand Tours."