VN news ticker: Expectations sky-high for Tadej Pogačar at UAE Tour; Mathieu van der Poel to keep it low-key in the Emirates

Here's the news making headlines on Sunday, February 21.

Team and race sponsors hoping for best from Tadej Pogačar at UAE Tour

A stage win, a second-place and second overall wasn’t good enough for Tadej Pogačar and team backers at last year’s UAE Tour. Those pulling the purse strings at UAE Team Emirates have sky-high expectations of their Tour de France champ at their home race this week.

“The UAE Tour is a really important event for our team as it’s our home race,” Pogačar said at the pre-race press conference Saturday. “Many of the race sponsors are also our team sponsors. We were a little bit disappointed to finish only second last year here, but we have another chance this time.”

Last year, Pogačar twice took the podium on the race’s key mountaintop finishes only to see his hopes of winning the overall curtailed by the early shutdown of the race due to COVID. Team backers will be expecting nothing but the best from the Slovenian this week, who has a strong cast of climbers to support him for the race’s two summit finishes including Rafal Majka and Davide Formolo.

Mathieu van der Poel to take back seat in road season debut at UAE Tour

Mathieu van der Poel sets his road season rolling with Alpecin Fenix at the UAE Tour this week, and the multi-discipline star isn’t expecting fireworks. Having won his fourth cyclocross world title just three weeks ago, the Dutchman is merely looking to test his form ahead of bigger ambitions in the spring classics.

“I’m here to be part of the sprint train for Jasper Philipsen. My main goal is to see how my level of fitness is compared to the best climbers,” van der Poel said Saturday. “Other than that, I haven’t set any goals for myself yet. It’s a restart for me after the cyclo-cross season.”