Yousif Mirza, an Emirati rider with UAE Team Emirates, reveals his dreams, why the wheels of his bicycle cost $2,000, and chatting with his teammates ahead of this week’s Dubai Tour.
As a kid, were you always pedalling around?
My first love was football, but then I got fascinated with bicycles seeing my elder brother Badr cycle. I was nine when I began riding and some of my earliest memories are of pedalling around the streets in Khor Fakkan, despite the worried face of my parents who considered the roads too dangerous for a kid. Later when I grew up, I began to watch as many races as possible, mostly on a smartphone, because they didn’t broadcast many races on TV.
When did things turn serious?
In 2009, when I rode in a Qatar Continental team; I attended a Tour of Qatar that year. There was a moment during that race that I thought: “Yes, cycling could be a serious part of my life.” I changed my mentality and over the years raised my personal goals.
What makes a good cyclist?
You must have a passion for the bike and for riding – bear all the efforts connected with cycling, especially with competitive bike races. I always loved the idea of going around on a bike, exploring the land whilst enjoying my favourite sport. That was the primary motivation for me.
What about physical qualities?
It’s a mix of stamina, strength, cardiac performance and body structure. Above all, there’s the mind, the attitude: in endurance sports, if your mind is not focused on the target, the rest counts for nothing.
What’s your training schedule?
It depends on the race I’m preparing for. Usually, my weekly training distance is between 500 and 800 kilometres. There is also gym time to strengthen my body and my core. When Dubai is really hot, I add some training on the indoor track. Nutrition is a really important part, too.
What difference did it make to your abilities when you turned pro?
Being in a pro team is a huge advantage, because you can focus your energies entirely on trying to be a good cyclist – there’s no waste of mental energy and time organising travels, or thinking about economic details, bike equipment and so on. In addition, you can count on people who are experts in their field, such as mechanics, trainers, masseurs and doctors. All this really helps to become a better rider.
How much does your bike cost?
I’m so lucky to ride bikes manufactured by Ernesto Colnago, a key name in the cycling world – they’re the Ferrari of the cycling world. Our bikes cost around $11,000 (Dh40,370). The wheels are among the most expensive components and can each cost $2,000. It’s unbelievable how light they are.
If an average cyclist borrowed your bike and put you on a $200 road bike, who’d win in a 500m race?
Well, 500m is a short distance and I’m pretty fast. So I feel I could exploit my speed and beat an average cyclist even if I was on a cheap road bike. Although, I do mean a race road bike, not the bikes with the basket on the handlebar that are meant for going to the market.
How do cyclists make money?
Pro cyclists receive a monthly wage by being a member of a team. In addition, they receive a percentage of the prize money that the team obtains at the races. Usually, if a rider wins a race, he renounces his percentage of prize money, giving it to his team mates as an act of gratitude for having received their support in achieving the goal. Top riders sometimes have deals with personal sponsors, but they can’t be competitors of their team’s sponsors.
There’re a lot of Italians in UAE Team Emirates, as well as some Norwegians, Poles and others – how do you communicate?
The core of the team used to be Italian, since UAE Team Emirates has its heritage in what was once managed by the former cycling star and manager Giuseppe Saronni. The Italian attitude of the team was really good for me, because it helped me to familiarise in an easy way: Italians are welcoming and they know how to work in cycling at the top level. There have been no big language problems; even the ones who speak just a little English – which has become the team’s main language between international riders as there are so many different nationalities – do their best to try to communicate with me, and I do my best to learn as many Italian words as possible.
What is your ultimate cycling dream?
I think the main dream I achieved so far was the same dream all sportspeople have: To represent your country at the Olympic Games. I participated in the Rio Olympics in 2016 and it was such a moving experience. Some months later, I become the first Emirati rider to be part of a World Tour team, which was also the first Emirati World Tour team in cycling history. I still have lots of goals: if I had to choose one, I’d say to participate in the Tour de France.
The 2018 Dubai Tour – the fifth edition – takes place from February 6-10.