The UAE’s first professional women’s cycling team is on a mission to inspire a culture of riding bikes in the country.
UAE Team ADQ comprises 15 riders from New Zealand, Belarus, Canada, Slovenia, Italy, Russia and Switzerland and the Emirates, who are between the ages of 19 and 36.
Some are international champions, while others are students.
During their first trip to Abu Dhabi, the riders are finding time to motivate residents to get in the saddle and join them on community rides at Yas Marina Circuit and on Hudayriyat Island.
“Cycling is a very well-established culture in Europe. It has been part of people’s lives for a long time,” Marta Bastianelli, 36, from Italy, told The National.
“We want to be part of establishing this culture and building it here in the UAE.”
Bastianelli — who is ranked 15th worldwide and has won cycling races in previous world, European and Italian championships — said she was impressed by the “outstanding example” the Emirates is setting in developing cycling infrastructure.
“We can clearly see it here at Al Hudayriyat Island and other parts of the country,” she said.
During their 10-day trip to Abu Dhabi, the riders will attend their first boot camp in the UAE and join in cultural activities and sponsorship events.
“It is a different landscape here,” said Sofia Bertizzolo, 25, another world-class rider from Italy.
“There are a lot of bike paths where people can train. In Europe, it is more difficult to find something like this.”
UAE Team ADQ, established last year and accredited by Union Cycliste Internationale, is the first women’s professional cycling team in the Middle East, and competes with 14 teams in Women’s World Tour races.
The men's cycling team, UAE Team Emirates, is an international force that has won two Tours de France.
Star rider Tadej Pogacar was crowned champion for a second consecutive year in July 2021. The team recently finished the European cycling calendar with a victory by Marc Hirschi at the Veneto Classic in Italy.
The women's team is based in Europe and some of its riders have won podium places in international races.
Despite their different nationalities, the women riders say they are proud to rally under the UAE flag.
“We have the same passion. We may be coming from different parts of the world and share different training experiences. We have different approaches,” said national Slovenian champion Eugenia Bujak.
“But the common purpose for all of us it to win.”
The team wants to inspire other women to take up cycling.
“Women’s cycling needs a bigger share of the spotlight and champions like Marianne Vos, Elizabeth Deignan, and our very own Marta, who are also mothers and students, set great examples for women pursuing their dreams while balancing their everyday lives,” said Bertizzolo.
Safiya Al Sayegh, 21, the Emirati in the team, told The National that she was encouraged to see more women riding at that level.
She said she took up the sport seven years ago.
“I was always an athlete. I got the opportunity to train with the national team and I started competitive sports since then,” Al Sayegh said.
“Cycling has significantly improved as a profession for women, compared to previous years, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic, [where] we saw an increasing number of women who started cycling.
“One of our core aims, other than racing, is to build community awareness and create opportunities for women to engage with the sport.
“We are on a mission to show women that they can fulfil their passion and dreams.”