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The road back to the Tour de France for Tadej Pogačar starts Sunday at the UAE Tour. Last year, the Slovenian won a stage in the COVID-shortened edition in what was another hint he was bound for Tour success later in the season.
Pogačar, who last raced with third place at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, is coming off a training camp on the Teide volcano.
“It’s my first race of the season so I’m excited to get started and get back competing again. My preparation has gone really well,” he said. “We’ve been on Mount Teide training at altitude over the past few weeks with a good group and done a quality block of training with a great atmosphere. I was thrilled to get the stage win here last year. Obviously, it will be a bit of a different atmosphere this year but we are all really motivated to race and give our all in the UAE colors.”
UAE-Team Emirates also brings Fernando Gaviria, and the team hopes to win at least one stage on “home roads” of the team’s backers.
“Our aim will be to pick up where we left the race last year: with a victory. Whether it’s the GC or a stage or both, we are searching for that first win of 2021 and to achieve it on home soil would be fantastic,” said sport director Joxean Matxin Fernandez. “We’re on home territory and we know that all eyes will be on us but it’s something we’ll use as further motivation. Pogačar will be our leader but the reality is it’s a squad that can adapt to any situation and we will have different cards to play, especially on the climbs.”
Sam Bennett, João Almeida lead in WorldTour season opener
Sam Bennett and João Almeida will lead Deceuninck-Quick-Step in the 2021 WorldTour season opener. Green-jersey winner Bennett will be in the hunt for the bunch sprints, with Almeida looking to challenge on the GC following his breakout 2020 season.
“It’s been a good winter and I am looking forward to starting the season,” Bennett said. “You always wait for the first race to see where the condition is, so Sunday can’t come soon enough. There will be plenty of sprint opportunities and I hope to do good, although I expect some stiff competition.”
There should be four sprint finishes, so Mattia Cattaneo and Fausto Masnada also will play their cards on the key Jebel Hafeet and Jebel Jais summit finishes.
“We have a strong team for the first World Tour race of the year, an event which will be made even more interesting by the presence of an individual time trial, something rare in the UAE,” said sport director Geert Van Bondt. “In Sam – who had a great first season with the Wolfpack – we have a guy who can fight for results on four stages. For the mountains, we have three riders – João, Mattia, and Fausto [Masnada] – all strong guys, so overall we are excited to go there.”