UAE at Rio 2016: Dubai and Abu Dhabi Tours help cyclist Yousif Mirza prepare for world’s best
Yousif Mirza is used to being the centre of cycling attention within the UAE. He has long been the country’s leading cyclist and the head of the UAE’s cycling federation, Osama Al Shafar, believes him to be the best cyclist in the region.
In January this year, he became the lead cyclist in the country’s second professional cycling team, Al Nasr Pro Cycling (after Skydive Dubai) – Al Nasr will aim to race as often as possible on the international circuit to further develop cycling in the UAE.
As if to underscore the point, when he broke bones in his leg and shoulders in a motorcycle accident last May – which at one stage threatened his chances of Olympic participation – his determination saw him back on a cycle in less than a month.
Still, when he lines up this Saturday in Rio for the Olympics road race, it will be a different kind of attention altogether. Mirza will start the 241.5-kilometre course alongside the likes of Chris Froome, Vincenzo Nibali and Fabio Aru and he is understandably nervous about it.
“You know, it will be a big dream for anyone and this is my dream, to represent my country and my team in the biggest event,” Mirza said, from Rio where he flew last week. “Nothing is bigger than this event.”
Mirza was jet-lagged at the time, having just arrived and not yet adjusted to the time zone (Rio is seven hours behind UAE time). But the early arrival is another part of a long preparation process that began in earnest from the moment he qualified, in February 2015 at the Asian Cycling Championships.
“Most of the Tour de France riders are over in Rio now, cyclists who have just done 4000km so they have mileage on their legs.”
Mirza has been putting on those miles as well, undergoing an especially extensive period of training in Portugal this summer, where he has come across some big name riders.
“Those have helped a lot,” he said. “That is also why I joined Al Nasr [Pro Cycling] because if I want to race in the big races I should be part of a big professional team.
“The Dubai and Abu Dhabi Tours have helped hugely, racing alongside guys like Sagan and Nibali, the big names. The more you race, the more you learn and big stages start to feel more normal.”
His mother was concerned at first, worried about the potential physical dangers of the sport. But as he got better and more serious about it, those worries subsided. “I never thought back then, when I was cycling with Al Khaleej club that I would be here one day.
He is, and on Saturday, he will have more prosaic concerns about how to tackle a tough course that contains ten climbs, some cobbled-section racing early on and in which the last 100km is a five-lap circuit with one big climb.
Targets are, understandably, modest. Al Shafar wants Mirza to break his own personal best for that distance. Mirza himself has another.