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UAE Team ADQ boss: ‘Men’s and women’s Tours de France are equal’

Team boss Rubens Bertogliati says the new women's team is not about sportswashing but about inspiring more people in the UAE to ride bikes.

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Winning a Tour de France Femmes will hold the same prestige as the men’s equivalent, says the boss of the new UAE Team ADQ women’s squad.

The UAE squad has won the last two editions of the men’s Tour de France with Tadej Pogačar. It will make its debut at the women’s race, along with all the other squads in the peloton, later this year.

Mavi Garcia will lead the team’s GC ambitions in 2022 and team boss Rubens Bertogliati — a former men’s Tour de France stage winner — says success at the Tour de France Femmes should be celebrated just as much as in the men’s race.

“We want the athletes to have the possibility to shine when they win races,” Bertogliati told VeloNews in a call this week. “For me, it’s clear that to win the women’s Tour de France is equal to a victory in the men’s, it’s a win. Of course, in the men’s they get more visibility, more publicity, more everything, but I think we showed in the last three or four years that women’s cycling is growing and it’s right to give them that independent status.”

Also read:

UAE Team ADQ is one of several new names in the women’s WorldTour for 2022 after it took over the running of the Alé BTC Ljubljana team at the end of last year.

The decision to create a women’s team was made at the end of last summer after Pogačar had claimed his second yellow jersey. In order to set up the team in time for this season, taking over an existing operation was the only option for the squad.

The success of Pogačar and other members of the team has played a role in inspiring the team to branch out into the women’s peloton, but Bertogliati wants the new squad to stand on its own two feet and for the riders to have their own moments to shine.

“From one point of view, it’s clear that the men’s team is an inspiration because they are doing good results,” he said. “From another point of view, the women’s team is a standalone team. It is its own reality, its own inspiration, it has its own winners to go and achieve these big results. It’s clear that the men’s team is an inspiration, but we keep we try to keep two teams separate in order to give the girls the possibility to shine in the races that we are doing.”

Growing budgets and talk of sportswashing

There are still many riders and staff members in place at the team from its time as Alé BTC Ljubljana, while some staff members — including Bertogliati — have come over from the men’s UAE team. The change in sponsors has also meant an overhaul of equipment with riders switching from Cippolini bikes to Colnago and wearing team kits produced by Gobik.

There have been some other small tweaks, including a slightly increased budget to bring the riders’ salaries in line with the same minimum wage as the men. While the budget will stay fairly stable for this year, Bertogliati hopes to increase it in the coming seasons to bring on more staff.

It all means that the team is operating with a budget in the region of €2m ($2.295m) for the 2022 season.

“This was the first big step I had in the budget. We wanted to give them the same minimum salary of the men,” he told VeloNews. “We started from the budget from Ale BTC but we raised it a little bit because we raised the minimum salary to the minimum salary for the men. For the rest, I think we are in line with the other good teams.

“Our budget will be clear after one season because in this first season, we want to put some better things maybe a better team of coaches. We want to do something more for the athletes and this has a cost.”

The news that the UAE state sponsorship would be branching out into the women’s peloton was met with a mixed reaction, as it was when it entered the men’s. The UAE — and several other countries in the Persian Gulf — have been accused of “sportswashing” with their plentiful big-bucks sponsorship deals of sporting teams and hosting of major events.

Sportswashing is defined as the practice of individuals, companies, or nation-states using international sport to clean up their reputation.

The UAE has been heavily criticized for human rights abuses in the state. A 2017-18 report by Amnesty International condemned the state for its failure to investigate allegations of torture, a lack of freedom of expression, the abuse of migrant workers, and discrimination against women.

Also read: The Outer Line: The UCI approaches a sportswashing crossroads

Bertogliati denied that the new women’s team was another shot at “sportswashing” the UAE’s reputation and said that it could have a real impact on change in the country.

“I understand, but you know, we are doing cycling, we represent the state because the state wants us to do sport in order to inspire people, men and women, to do sport in the UAE,” he said. “When we speak about the UAE ADQ, it’s clear we speak about cycling but a lot has been done to other sports too. Because they see, if people do sport, then people have fewer health problems in the future.

“That’s why we represent the state because we want to inspire but our remit is to really concentrate on the sport. It’s up to the state to do promote the team to inspire people to do cycling or sport, which is for the health. I don’t know all the stuff about the cover-ups but it’s clear that all the world is evolving. Women in cycling are evolving not only in UAE but all over.

“I would not look at the problems of the past, and I think it’s so good opportunity that they want to give to women to have the possibility to shine. As a state, they organize the national championships and Safeeya [al Saygh] is now one of our riders. She won both [national titles]… We want to do cycling and we want to inspire people.”