Formolo: People say we're a weak Tour de France team but it's not true
UAE Team Emirates show new collective strength to back Pogacar
Tadej Pogačar may be superior to his Tour de France rivals but in the toughest stages of the race, his UAE Team Emirates squad have also stepped up and protected their leader.
Last year, Pogačar lost 1:21 in a split in crosswinds during stage 9 to Lavaur and the team have made sure he has the backing for his Tour de France. They do not have the strength in depth of Ineos Grenadiers and its many Grand Tour winners but they can count on a solid roster for the Tour with no real weak links.
New signing for 2021 Rafał Majka is among the last riders to stay with Pogačar in the high mountains, the USA's Brandon McNulty was switched from the Giro d'Italia to add extra climbing power, while former world champion Rui Costa offers years of experience.
Norwegian rouleur Vegard Stake Laengen and three-time under-23 time trial champion Mikkel Bjerg can ride on the flats and early climbs, while Italy's Davide Formolo can also offer key work in the mountains.
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On the final climb towards Tignes on stage 9, UAE Team Emirates lead the peloton for much of the way, despite losing McNulty to a crash into the grass on a descent.
When Ineos Grenadiers upped the pace to set-up Richard Carapaz's attack, Pogačar was isolated in the select group of GC riders but used his own strength and confidence to chase after the Ecuadorian rider and attack himself, gaining a further 32 seconds and push his lead on everyone bar stage winner Ben O'Connor to over five minutes.
"People keep saying Tadej is often left on his own and that we're a weak team but it's not true," Formolo told Cyclingnews and La Gazzetta dello Sport after the stage, defending his teammates.
"We're the only team who have controlled a stage for 250km [on stage 7 to Le Creusot], when there were seven of us against a strong attack of 25 riders. People said the attack was going to blow open the Tour, but we kept things under control. We're clearly not that bad."
"We were up there again in numbers on the road to Tignes, with everyone doing their bit to control the race, ride a good tempo and protect Tadej. The rouleurs like Bjerg, Laengen and Costa did a lot of work, as did Hirschi, then I and Majka were there too.
"After Brandon's crash, we were a bit short-handed and so I opted to work longer in the valley before the climb to the finish, where it was more important. The climb wouldn't have changed a lot of things and Tadej was strong, so I knew I could make more of a difference and do a better job on the climb up the valley."
Formolo is happy to work hard and sacrifice his own chances to try to help Pogačar win a second Tour, with the Slovenian's relaxed demeanour inviting loyalty and enthusiasm amongst his teammates.
"His strength is that he's 22, carefree, and simply loves racing his bike," Formolo said
"It all seems easy for him and so it's a pleasure for us to ride for him and hopefully to help win a second Tour."
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has been Head of News at Cyclingnews since 2022, before which he held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and CyclingWeekly, among other publications.