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Team preview: UAE Team Emirates

Tadej Pogacar returns to lead Team UAE Team Emirates in 2022, with added firepower from João Almeida, Pascal Ackermann and George Bennett
Tadej Pogacar returns to lead Team UAE Team Emirates in 2022, with added firepower from João Almeida, Pascal Ackermann and George Bennett (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Who?

  • Manager: Mauro Gianetti
  • Squad size: 29
  • Average age: 26.8

UAE Team Emirates still seem like the new kid on the block amongst the most successful teams in the men's WorldTour but they now deserve the status of 'super team' along side Ineos Grenadiers, Jumbo-Visma and Deceuninck-QuickStep by winning a second consecutive Tour de France with Tadej Pogačar and building an even  stronger team for 2022.

Pogačar’s second Grand Boucle victory and his massive salary clearly make him the team leader but UAE Team Emirates have used their long-term financial security and significant budget to sign João Almeida, Pascal Ackermann, George Bennett, Marc Soler and Alvaro Hodeg for 2022, bolstering their roster in every department, while only losing the ageing Alexander Kristoff, Joe Dombrowski and a few other minor riders. They also have Andrés Camilo Ardila and Juan Ayuso under development, confirming they are planning long-term as well as for 2022.  

UAE Team Emirates will again target the Tour de France with Pogačar and a strengthened team, while also being real contenders with Almeida at the Giro d’Italia and in the sprints and Classics with Ackermann, Trentin and Hodeg.  

How did they fare in 2021?

  • Wins: 32
  • UCI world ranking: 4th – 12372.3 points

If Pogacar’s 2020 Tour de France victory was a surprise, coming via that final and very dramatic time trial to La Planche des Belles Filles, his 2021 win was far more emphatic with three stage wins and two weeks in the yellow jersey. The second Tour de France success also showed the team’s strengths and the management’s nerve and ability in the sport’s biggest race.

Pogacar’s other victories at the UAE Tour, Tirreno-Adriatico, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Il Lombardia only elevated his status in the sport and confirmed UAE Team Emirates’ growing status in the peloton.

Diego Ulissi, Dombrowski, Yousif Mirza, Ryan Gibbons, Juan Sebastian Molano, Fernando Gaviria, Marc Hirschi, Kristoff and Matteo Trentin all added to the team’s tally of wins, with the likes of Mikkel Bjerg, Rafal Majka, Brendon McNulty, Davide Formolo, Rui Costa, Marco Marcato all playing vital roles.      

In for 2022: João Almeida (from Deceuninck-QuickStep), Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe), George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) Marc Soler (Movistar), Alvaro Hodeg (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Alexys Brunel (Groupama-FDJ) and Felix Groß (Rad - Net Rose Team). 

Out for 2022: Alexander Kristoff (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux), Joe Dombrowski (Astana Qazaqstan), Marco Marcato (retired), Maximiliano Richeze, David de la Cruz (Astana Qazaqstan), Valerio Conti (Astana Qazaqstan), Sven Erik Bystrøm (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux), Alexandr Riabushenko (Astana Qazaqstan), Cristian Camilo Muñoz.

Key riders

Team UAE Emirates Tadej Pogacar of Slovenia wearing the overall leaders yellow jersey celebrates as he crosses the finish line during the 18th stage of the 108th edition of the Tour de France cycling race 129 km between Pau and Luz Ardiden on July 15 2021 Photo by Philippe LOPEZ AFP Photo by PHILIPPE LOPEZAFP via Getty Images

Team UAE Emirates' Tadej Pogačar wins stage 18, the final climb in the Pyrenees, at the 2021 Tour de France (Image credit: Getty Images)

Tadej Pogačar: UAE Team Emirates wisely extended and no doubt increased the 23-year-old Slovenian’s contract yet again late in the season, his 2021 Tour de France win indicating he is the Grand Tour rider of his generation and a possible future great of the sport. Pogačar’s strike rate is up there with that of Eddy Merckx. It is impossible to compare such different generations in the sport but Merckx has already crowned Pogačar as the possible next G.O.A.T and his love of attacking racing and collection of major victories explain any comparison.

Pogačar’s apparent dominance has raised suspicions, as it always does in the Tour de France, but the doubts fail to stand up to scrutiny so far and Pogačar has shrugged them off and focused on enjoying his racing. 

He has the aggression to win the hardest Classics and then uses it in a Grand Tour strategy too, his time trial ability matching his climbing skills, recovery and tactical nous. Pogačar really does seem to have it all.  

João Almeida: The Portuguese rider is, like Pogačar, only 23 but is also on an impressive Grand Tour career trajectory. He has yet to match Pogačar's success but spent 15 days in the maglia rosa at the 2020 Giro d’Italia last October and finished fourth overall, backing up that result with sixth in this year’s race after sacrificing himself for Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep) early in the race. He also won the Tour de Pologne and the Skoda-Tour de Luxembourg despite having signed his new deal with UAE Team Emirates, which is a clear sign of his professionalism and hunger.

Almeida may not have Pogačar’s and Evenepoel’s superstar profile but he has the fine talents needed to win Grand Tours and the calm and maturity to plot a long, successful career. He may eventually want to target the Tour de France himself but was happy to sign a five-year deal with UAE Team Emirates as they made another long-term investment. 

KRAKOW POLAND AUGUST 15 Joao Pedro Gonalves Almeida of Portugal and Team Deceuninck QuickStep Yellow Leader Jersey prior to the 78th Tour de Pologne 2021 Stage 7 a 145km stage from Zabrze to Krakw TourdePologne TDP2021 UCIWT on August 15 2021 in Krakow Poland Photo by Bas CzerwinskiGetty Images

João Almeida (Deceuninck-QuickStep) in leader's jersey at 2021  Tour de Pologne (Image credit: Getty Images)

Pascal Ackermann: The German rider is far more than a sprinter, offering Classics ability and ambition with lots of finishing power. He left Bora-Hansgrohe after being overlooked for a Grand Tour ride in 2021 and so is hungry to prove a point in 2022. 

He is unlikely to have a place in Pogačar’s Tour squad but should get the opportunities he deserves and forms part of an interesting sprint squad alongside Gaviria, Hodeg and Molano. He will also team up with Trentin, Bjerg, Hirschi and Pogačar in other Classics, completing their strategic options in Milan-San Remo, Scheldeprijs, the Amstel Gold Race and others.

Ackermann replaces Kristoff and UAE Team Emirates may need time to build a lead out for him but he is another well-considered signing.

Matteo Trentin: The likeable Italian perhaps fails to win as often as he should but he is a key part of the UAE Team Emirates team, often acting as road captain and mentor. Trentin is one of the leaders of the peloton and so along with vital new signing Geroge Bennett, he can deliver a UAE Team Emirates presence in the biggest races, while allowing Pogačar to focus on his plans.

Just as Bennett will get his chances in hilly stage races, Trentin will have freedom in the Classics and there is no reason why things shouldn’t finally go his way so he can win a monument.

OVERIJSE BELGIUM APRIL 14 Matteo Trentin of Italy and UAE Team Emirates during the 61st De Brabantse Pijl La Flche Brabanonne 2021 Mens Elite a 2017km race from Leuven to Overijse 106m BP21 FlandersClassic on April 14 2021 in Overijse Belgium Photo by Luc ClaessenGetty Images

Matteo Trentin of UAE Team Emirates was third at De Brabantse Pijl  (Image credit: Getty Images)

Brandon McNulty: The  American is UAE Team Emirates’ third 23-year-old Grand Tour talent. He is still learning the ropes of European WorldTour racing but is progressing at pace and will surely make a far bigger impact in 2022.

McNulty has still to win a race with UAE Team Emirates but starts 2022 with the experience and benefit of the 2021 Tour de France in his legs. He lost the Itzulia Basque Country in dramatic fashion but that was also a lesson learnt for the future. His Grand Tour ability is built on the foundations of his world-class time trialing ability but piece by piece UAE Team Emirates are building another Grand Tour contender.

Juan Ayuso: If Pogačar, Almeida and McNulty represent UAE Team Emirates’ present and near future, then the 19-year-old Spaniard represents the long-term ambitions. Young talent has emerged rapidly in recent years, but Ayuso appears to be on an even faster development curve thanks to his multiple and superior skills. Watch out Remco Evenepoel.

Yet another rider discovered and nurtured by Matxin Fernandez, Ayuso won the U23 Giro d'Italia and a host of one-day races while riding for the Colpack Continental team in Italy. He stepped up to the WorldTour at just 18 and immediately impressed with second at the Prueba Villafranca-Ordiziako Klasika race in Spain. His tilt at the Tour de L’Avenir ended after a crash but he was also third in the U23 European road race.

Ayuso is from Jávea near Alicante but spent part of his youth in the USA and so speaks English fluently and is world wise. If Pogačar’s career stumbles, Ayuso appears almost ready to replace him.   

Strengths

UAE Team Emirates have developed massively in the last 12 months, fueled by Pogačar’s 2020 Tour de France success, a secure and significant budget from the Middle East and an ever-improving roster.

Giannetti and Matxin are not the most loved managers in the sport given their connections with Saunier Duval at the time of the team's doping cases, but they appear to know how to run a successful team and build for the future.

In 2022 UAE Team Emirates will surely be contenders for almost every major race, with a range of talent set to develop at pace in the next 12 months and in the next five years. The addition of a women’s programme can only better the team as a whole.

LIBOURNE FRANCE JULY 16 Tadej Pogaar of Slovenia and UAETeam Emirates yellow leader jersey celebrates at podium during the 108th Tour de France 2021 Stage 19 a 207km stage from Mourenx to Libourne Lion Mascot LeTour TDF2021 on July 16 2021 in Libourne France Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

Tadej Pogačar has two Tour de France wins in past two years (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Weaknesses

Innovation and stacking up marginal gains are vital in creating a winning edge in WorldTour racing. UAE Team Emirates once seemed stuck in the past, with riders lamenting about their bikes, nutrition and tactics.

They have improved massively, with sports science and proven physiology from Iñigo San Millán and Jeroen Swart replacing old-school beliefs but they are perhaps still behind the learning curve of Ineos Grenadiers and Jumbo-Visma, with Pogačar's talents papering over some of their weaknesses.

Alan Peiper’s decision to step back due to health issues is also a loss to the team, and to Pogačar on a more personal level. Fortunately Andrej Hauptman has quit his role as Slovenian national coach to work full time with the team and Pogacar.

Verdict

UAE Team Emirates have climbed the WorldTour hierarchy rapidly in the last two years, transforming from one of the peloton’s ugly ducklings into Tour de France winners.

Much of it is thanks to Pogačar’s incredible talents but the team has also developed and improved massively around him and appears ready to step up again in 2022.

While other teams are struggling to secure their budgets, UAE Team Emirates have a huge flow of cash from the Middle East and appear to be using it wisely. It is surely only a matter of time that they equal or move past Ineos Grenadiers, QuickStep and Jumbo-Visma.

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