After years of battling each other through the junior and U23 ranks, the Emirati squad’s pair of 22-year-old stars are set to combine their talents at both the Ardennes and Tour de France in 2021. Hirschi will be the first to play protagonist, acting as the center point in the hilly one-day races of spring. The Swiss rider will then step back in summer to support Pogačar in his yellow jersey defense.
- Marc Hirschi looking to conquer the classics before expanding horizons further afield
- Tadej Pogačar and UAE Team Emirates ride into 2021 ‘better, calm, confident’
- Tadej Pogačar targets Tour de France, Vuelta a España double
With Hirschi taking victory at last year’s La Flèche Wallonne before being joined on the podium by Pogačar at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the pair will make for a fearsome duo capable of taking on the numbers of Deceuninck-Quick-Step and dominant riders like Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel.
“In the classics, it’s always good to several riders in the final to play a little bit,” Hirschi said Monday. “There’s a lot of guys in the bunch like Van Aert and van der Poel that are really hard to beat in a sprint, so in Liège and Amstel, you have to go before them. If you go to the line with them it’s almost impossible for me to beat them, so it’s nice to have a guy like Tadej [Pogačar] but also other strong guys in the final so we can play and share the roles.”
It is likely that Hirschi will lead the charge in the Ardennes, with team manager Mauro Gianetti telling Radio Télévision Suisse last week that Pogačar is set to play lieutenant to their new Swiss signing through spring. However, Hirschi said he’s happy to be a team player in a squad also boasting classics contenders such as Diego Ulissi and Davide Formolo.
“At the end, the goal is that a UAE rider wins the race, it doesn’t matter which rider,” he said during a Zoom call from the team’s Emirati camp.
Hirschi’s shock move from Team DSM at the turn of the year has not shaken the provisional schedule he laid out last fall. Hirschi will start his season at the UAE Tour before tracking through the Ardennes, the Tour and the Olympic Games.
The change of jerseys will see a new role at the Tour de France, however. Hirschi was one of the revelations of last year’s Tour thanks to his offensive breakaway riding, an approach that landed him the “Most Combative Rider” prize. This year, the puncheur will be kept on a leash in the UAE engine room.
“For sure at the Tour we will have to defend the leader and defend the jersey,” Hirschi said. “It will be a big difference for me and a learning point for me for the future. It’s different when you go for stages or when you’re going to help a leader, so it’s a nice chance for me to see what my body is capable of, and I’m motivated to help Pogačar.”
Although Hirschi and Pogačar may have only been teammates for some two weeks, the pair have known each other through years of going head-to-head in the junior ranks.
“I’ve known Tadej for a long time. We raced a lot in the juniors and U23 in the international races. Since then we’ve had a good relationship, mostly just in the peloton,” Hirschi said. “We were always fighting a lot together for the same races. Sometimes he was a bit stronger, sometimes I was stronger, so there was always some battle between us. He was always more a GC rider and I was always a one-day racer.”
Hirschi and Pogačar’s results through their formative years could make for a preview of what’s to come now the two “frenemies” buddy-up in 2021. The Slovenian won the 2018 Tour de l’Avenir as Hirschi finished down in the bunch. A few months later, the Swissman won the U23 worlds while Pogačar finished seventh.
Their results may follow a similar trend in 2021. Only this time, they’ll both come out smiling.