Pogačar goes to Tour for experience first, results second, says team director

Aru to lead UAE-Team Emirates at the Tour with Pogačar free to ride without pressure.

While the world expects a lot from new grand tour talent Tadej Pogačar, his UAE-Team Emirates director Joxean Fernandez Matxín is taking the pressure off.

The 21-year-old Slovenian will head to his debut Tour de France this summer, heading up his Emirati team alongside former Vuelta a España champion Fabio Aru. While the Sardinian’s career may have cooled since boiling up to its best through 2014 and 2015 and, conversely, Pogačar’s palmarès is rapidly taking shape with a third-place finish at the Vuelta last summer and stage race successes this winter, it is Aru who will lead the team in France.

“Aru is the one who will be the main leader because he is the one with the most experience,” Fernandez told Biciclismo this week. “Pogačar goes toward a career that is unknown and is absolutely different from all. The goal is to learn and see how far he can go without any commitment.”

Pogačar has shown both the willingness and ability to battle the best in France this summer, recently beating Tour rival Primož Roglič in the Slovenian national time trial championships. Though Pogačar is ready to be let off the leash right now, Fernandez is willing to play the long game having secured him to a long-term deal through 2024.

UAE-Team Emirates is one of a crop of newly-ambitious WorldTour outfits alongside the likes of Jumbo-Visma, Israel Start-Up Nation, and Bahrain-McLaren. Having built a strong bench of youthful riders for the future, including Pogačar, American WorldTour rookie Brandon McNulty, 21, and Spanish hope for the future Juan Ayuso, 17, Fernandez and the team have their set targets at the very top.

“In the sport, we try to be, I don’t know if in a year, in two or three, in a prudent time, to be the best team in the world,” Fernandez said. “It is difficult and we have to respect rivals. Ineos takes a long time and is a very large structure, Jumbo-Visma is growing by leaps and bounds … We know it is complicated, but also that you have to set important goals to try to achieve them.”

With an on-form and confident Pogačar, still youthful sprint talents Fernando Gaviria and Jasper Philipsen, and the experienced heads of Alexander Kristoff and Rui Costa, Fernandez’s path toward WorldTour dominance starts as early as the resumption of racing this August.

“In these four months we want to be protagonists,” he said. “We have a large staff of 30 riders, and we have shared ambitions among everyone and we want to be competitive in each of the races in which we are going to participate.”