Team Wiggins will unlikely win in the Abu Dhabi Tour this week, but the stage race will be “a big learning experience” for the British boys.
The team – all 20 or 21 besides 29-year-old Dan Patten, are riding side-by-side with new world champion Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), Marcel Kittel (Giant-Alpecin), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and other stars.
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“It’s a tall ask to go for stage wins,” Simon Cope told Cycling Weekly.
“Our goal will be in the breaks and maybe set up Chris Latham for a few sprints. We decided to bring the young lads, the majority of the team is under-23. It’ll be a big learning experience for them.”
Cope waited in the lobby for his riders to ready. They arrived one by one in their blue and red kits, passing cycling’s big names in Sagan and Tom Boonen to reach the start line.
They covered 159km today – Michael Thomas escaped, and Pattan and Latham pulled the front of the group for 5km to catch the lone leader at 1km out.
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For Latham, who just joined the team, it is a jump into the deep end of cycling.
“It’s a great opportunity, if you get a result it means something because the best of the best is here. Sagan, Kittel… A lot of weapons,” Latham said.
“Yeah, I’ll give them a whirl, a run for their money! No, it’s just a privilege to race with so many hitters here.”
Andrea Guardini (Astana) won the first stage to Madinat Zayed, a small town of 29,000 that names a camel track as its biggest attraction.
Latham is using this race as a springboard for next week’s European Track Championships. Instead, other Wiggins cyclists skipped Abu Dhabi to head directly to Switzerland.
The rest of the team will pull the brakes on the road season after the Abu Dhabi Tour ends on the Formula One Yas Marina Circuit on Sunday.
Cope explained that the team made a big step in its debut year. It created a team for Bradley Wiggins to call home and a launch pad for under-23 cyclists racing on the road and track.
“The team was put together quiet late, so our roster was thin,” Cope continued.
“We struggled trying to cover races in the UK. As a UK continental team you have to ride the UK domestic scene. That was hard trying to do that and having our lads riding for Team GB.”
Wiggins succeeded. Owain Doull, Andrew Tennant and Latham won on the road. Wiggins, of course, set the Hour Record in London. The team raced the Tour of Britain and Tour of Yorkshire as well as in the 2.1-ranked Abu Dhabi Tour.
As Cope said for Abu Dhabi, it has been “a big learning experience.”