Joao Almeida focused on Giro as UAE Team Emirates launch program to discover new talent

Portuguese rider, in Abu Dhabi to help launch Adnoc Accelerator Program, was forced to withdraw from 2022 Giro d'Italia after testing positive for Covid-19

Joao Almeida of UAE Team Emirates attends the Adnoc Accelerator Program launch at Al Hudayriyat Island in Abu Dhabi. Pawan Singh / The National
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UAE Team Emirates rider Joao Almeida has said the Giro d'Italia will be his main goal next season after being forced to withdraw from this year's race with Covid-19.

The Portuguese cyclist was firmly in general classification contention at the grand tour in May, wearing the white jersey for leading young rider and occupying a podium place, before news of his positive test meant he needed to pull out of the race prior to Stage 18.

It was a heartbreaking end to what had been a superb tour for Almeida, but he is determined to chase down glory when he returns to the Giro next year.

“I want to focus on the Giro again,” Almeida told The National during his participation in the Adnoc Accelerator Program at Hudayriat Island in Abu Dhabi at the weekend.

Sharing the team's goals for next season, Almeida added: “We are going to do everything to challenge every race we participate in as a team.

"We had a pretty good year but I was expecting a little more in the Giro, but unfortunately I had Covid, but the team doesn’t depend on me alone. Overall I learned a lot and had some good results.”

Despite the Giro setback, it was a successful season for Almeida, who won the Portuguese national road race championship, won the white jersey at Paris–Nice, and claimed podium finishes at Vuelta a Burgos and Volta a Catalunya, winning stages in both races.

Almeida was in the UAE to attend the launch of the Adnoc Accelerator Program, a training camp created to identify and develop the next generation of Emirati cycling talent.

The program offers promising Emirati cyclists the opportunity to train under the tutelage of the UAE Team Emirates’ high performance coaching staff and to compete alongside the two-time Tour de France winning team.

“I like to be in the program and be part of the UAE Team Emirates family," Almeida said. "It’s important to find new talents in the UAE as the future depends on the young athletes.”

As the program progresses, the size of the group will be reduced down to the top riders. These elite cyclists will then race alongside UAE Team Emirates riders in a road race to Al Wathba to determine who will be the ultimate winner.

The winner will receive a year-long development program with UAE Team Emirates, which will include access to UAE Team Emirates coaches and nutritionists, and the opportunity to attend official training camps throughout 2023, starting with a 10-day winter camp in Spain in December.

“For me, it’s something that I wanted to do for a long time to scout for potential local cyclists and to put a program of this kind from the support we have,” UAE Team Emirates trainer Kevin Poulton said.

“This program is made up of a series of challenges both indoor and outdoor to selects the cyclist that has the most potential. We are looking at the best rider, and it can be two different riders as the best climber or the best sprinter who will have the best potential to be in in these two categories.”

“The winner of this program will receive personal coaching, camps attending races and so on. It’s all about finding the potential and getting them to ride outside in Europe and the United States, and then bring that experience back to the country.

“If we find the right person, he would certainly find him as a potential to be in the UAE Team Emirates roster.”

UAE Team Emirates rider Yousif Mirza - the UAE's leading Emirati cyclist - said the program is an opportunity to develop talent and believes it can provide the platform to discover more talent in the country.

“When I first started in cycling, we didn’t have such programmes and the facilities,” he said. “I’m glad that our younger generation will benefit from this programme and many more opportunities and incentives to pursue as full time race riders.

“It’s amazing to see how much cycling has grown in the Middle East since UAE Team Emirates were formed.

“I was at Hudayriat Island three weeks ago and saw a bare land in front of the Abu Dhabi Cycling Club. When I came for the program I saw a new mountain bike track in that spot, that’s how rapid the development is taking place.”

Updated: October 23, 2022, 9:07 AM