Yousif Mirza backs trailblazer Safiya Al Sayegh to make UAE proud at Paris Olympics

National team coach confident Emirati cyclist can raise the bar as they embark on three-week camp in Italy ahead of Summer Games

Safiya Al Sayegh is all set to represent the UAE at the Paris Olympics. Photo: UAE Women's Cycling Team
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Prominent Emirati cyclist Yousif Mirza is feeling extremely proud as he prepares to pass the Olympic baton to Safiya Al Sayegh who is set to become the first Emirati female cyclist to fly the national flag at the Games in Paris.

Mirza had the honour of becoming the first Emirati to compete in the road race event, at the Rio Games in 2016, and now heads to Paris as Al Sayegh's coach.

Mirza is highly motivated to guide Al Sayegh who has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the world of cycling. She became the first Arab woman to join a World Tour cycling team in 2022 when she signed up for Team UAE ADQ, after which she went on to make her World Tour debut in 2023, finishing in the top 35 at the Tour of Chongming Island in Shanghai.

This was followed by an excellent performance at the Asian Games in Hangzhou where she was placed ninth in the individual time trial and 11th in the road race. She also represented the UAE in two World Championships.

On Wednesday, Al Sayegh, 22, travelled to Italy for a three-week training camp. Following this, she will compete in the Asian Road Championship in Kazakhstan on June 9 before stepping up her preparations for the Paris Olympics.

And she will be juggling all of this while also gearing up for her upcoming graduation from the American University in Dubai with a degree in graphic design.

With so much on her plate, Al Sayegh will need all the help she can get. Accompanying her for the camp in Italy is the UAE national team head coach Mirza, an accomplished rider in his own right - he was the first Emirati cyclist to qualify for the Olympics in 2016.

Aside from that, Mirza won multiple national titles as well as a silver medal in the 2015 Asian Cycling Championships in Thailand. Also, Mirza was the first Emirati to ride for a UCI World Team in 2017 when he joined UAE Team Emirates.

Needless to say, Mirza is the ideal person to guide Al Sayegh and he has full faith in her potential.

“She’ll obviously do her best and whatever the outcome, she will return with the experience. She’s now the trailblazing Emirati female cyclist and this has set a precedent for others to follow,” Mirza told The National before they left for Italy.

Al Sayegh is all praise for her coach as well.

“One thing he (Mirza) told me is that he sees himself in me and those were quite nice words to hear,” Al Sayegh told The National's Abtal podcast recently.

“If he sees himself in me, that means that hopefully I can have at least a successful career as he has. He's been supporting very closely. He's always offered me what I've needed to progress and to go even higher.

“He's provided me with so much of his knowledge of what to do in such hard situations, how to also deal with the sport at such a high level. Because as you progress with the levels of sport, you actually get to experience new things that you'd never expect to experience.”

Mirza took charge of both the national men’s and women’s cycling teams a year ago. He is drawing from his experience and sharing what he learnt to benefit the national team and teach the athletes what to expect at the global stage.

“We had one qualifying spot for 2024 Paris and we chose Safiya as the best candidate to rack up the rankings points and she eventually fulfilled our expectations by qualifying for the Olympics,” Mirza said.

“Safiya is young and has shown potential as the leading Emirati female cyclist. She has some good results to prove that. We provided her with the opportunity and she’s grabbed it with both hands.”

Aside from his work with Al Sayegh, Mirza is keen on passing down his knowledge to benefit other young riders.

“Indeed, I want to share all my experience with the national team and my goal is also to discover new riders to represent the UAE in the major events, like the Olympics,” he added.

“We have a nice programme in place for the national team with the cooperation of our federation and the expertise shared by both the UAE Team Emirates and the UAE Team ADQ.”

Updated: May 17, 2024, 1:00 PM