Valerio Conti hopes 'dream come true' of wearing Giro d'Italia's pink jersey can inspire next generation
Italian becomes first UAE Team Emirates rider to hold the general classification lead in a grand tour
UAE Team Emirates have achieved plenty in a short time since taking over UCI World Tour team Lampre in December 2016.
They were winners of the first UCI Abu Dhabi Tour in 2017; there have been stage wins across the globe, including all three grand tours, and just this week the team won the Tour of California - the only top-level World Tour in the United States - after Tadej Pogačar claimed general classification (GC) honours.
All of these accomplishments - as well as the recruitment of top-bracket riders such as Dan Martin, Fabio Aru, Alexander Kristoff and Fernando Gaviria - have all contributed to UAE Team Emirates' transformation into serious contenders on the UCI World Tour.
Now the team has another major achievement to highlight their rapid progress: earning and retaining a general classification jersey in a grand tour.
That is thanks to Valerio Conti, who adorned the Giro d'Italia's maglia rosa - pink jersey - at the end of Stage 6 and has kept it in his possession for the three subsequent stages.
Standing on the top step of the GC podium at a grand tour is what all aspiring road race cyclists strive for, but to do it four times in his home race makes it even more memorable for the 26-year-old Italian.
“To be in the pink jersey is a dream come true. It's something I’m finding hard to believe, and I feel it will take still some time to really get my head around it," Conti said.
“It is very special. Every young kid that starts cycling – especially in Italy – dreams about wearing the pink jersey. Of course, it is something very special and it makes my whole family very happy.
"My father, Franco, was a pro rider and he won the amateur Giro d'Italia, whilst my uncle Noè was a pro rider too – so cycling runs in the family. The pink jersey is a prize for all the efforts my family made over the years.
“This is my best moment for sure, I cannot imagine something better. It is even better than when I won a stage at the Vuelta a Espana.”
Conti predates the takeover of UAE Team Emirates, having signed professional terms with Lampre in 2014 after one year in which he rode for the team as a stagiaire - an amateur rider who temporarily competes for a professional team.
That does not make him any less committed to the current cause.
“It is of course an honour, especially after being here so long and how deeply involved I am in the team project," Conti said.
"I really like the goals of the team and that’s why I am here. The pink jersey has set a new bar, and this helps the team in its path towards achieving the best possible level.
"The quality in the team is constantly increasing – this season we have added more great riders – and we all work together to achieve big results.”
Conti is aware that his time in the pink jersey is likely to be limited. Pre-race favourite Primoz Roglic closed the gap significantly after Sunday's individual time trial, and as the Giro heads into the mountains, other contenders are likely to emerge. Conti remains defiant, though.
“I’ll keep hold of the pink jersey until my legs, heart and brain will support me! Realistically, that will probably be at the end of this week, when we approach the first tough climbs and the general classification contenders start to put on the pressure.”
As well as achieving success on the World Tour, UAE Team Emirates continue to place huge importance on using their platform to encourage younger generations - both in the UAE and around the world - to take up cycling.
After making his own "dream come true" of leading a grand tour, Conti hopes that his achievements can inspire the riders of the future to pursue their own ambitions.
“It's important that youngsters all over the world see us at the front of the race, because it shows that dreams can become true, and that you should never stop believing they can,” he said.
“If me being in the pink jersey makes even just one young kid fall in love with cycling, then it is a good thing. But I hope that it will help to inspire many young boys and girls to cycle, across the UAE and beyond.”
Updated: May 20, 2019 09:21 PM