Wout Poels and Jack Haig have outlined their 2021 program and goals, setting out broadly similar aims for the new season. It will Poels' sophomore year at Bahrain Victorious and Haig's debut at the team, which he joins after five years at Mitchelton-Scott.
Both men are aiming to take part in the Tokyo Olympic Games in August – should it go ahead – with the Ardennes Classics a key part of the selection process along the way.
The Tour de France, which is set to finish less than a week before the Tokyo road race, is also on their hitlist, with the pair expected to make up part of a strong supporting team for Mikel Landa as he targets both the Tour and the Giro d'Italia.
While supporting Landa is the aim at the Tour de France, the team will go there ready to adapt to any change of circumstances should the Spaniard falter in the latter half of the Grand Tour double, Poels said during the team's pre-season press conference.
"At the Tour I'll have to see how I get through the first week. It remains to be seen how Mikel Landa will come out of the Giro d'Italia, but if he's in top form he will be among the best and we will ride for him. But it's good to have several options and that's how I see my role for the moment."
Haig added that the team could head to France with the aim of stage hunting in mind, with the Australian, Poels, Landa and the likes of Pello Bilbao and Dylan Teuns all capable of doing just that.
"Regarding the Tour de France, I think the team will go more as a stage-hunting team rather than a purely GC team," said the Australian. "I think it's easy to see that teams like Ineos and Jumbo-Visma have a bit of a stranglehold on the GC, so I think it's probably a bit more of a stage-hunting process and seeing how it pans out for us."
Though the Olympics might be under threat once again, with IOC member Dick Pound on Friday expressing his uncertainty over its future relating to the COVID-19 surge in Japan, both men have zeroed in on the event.
The tough course, which takes in several mountain passes including the lower slopes of Mount Fuji, is well-suited to the capabilities of both Poels and Haig.
"I would really like to go to Tokyo but I'm not sure if I'm going – it's up to the federation, of course," said Poels. "If I do a good Ardennes block, I'll have a good chance to go so everything will stand on that. I did the Olympics in Rio and it would be nice to do my second one, and I think the course suits me well, so we'll see."
Poels, who won Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2016 and has finished fourth at La Flèche Wallonne, looks to have every chance of making the Dutch team, while Haig, who is among Australia's top climbing talents along with Richie Porte, Jai Hindley and Rohan Dennis, also looks a good bet to ride in Japan. Still only 27, Haig nonetheless sees it as a final chance to race at the Olympics.
"I have the Olympics as a big goal of mine, probably the only chance in my career to go because Paris [in 2024] will probably not be a course that suits me," he said. "Similar to Wout, the Ardennes block will be quite important to make the selection. Some of the selection criteria is done off some of the longer one-day races and they're the ones we have to show our potential with."
Setting aside the Tour, Ardennes and Olympics, Poels and Haig will both ride similar programs through the spring and early summer, too. The Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and UAE Tour are both on the schedule, and the pair will take on the Critérium du Dauphiné, too. One divergence comes in March, where Poels will tackle Paris-Nice while Haig goes to the Volta a Catalunya.
Haig, who started 2020 in super form, finishing second and third in Valenciana and the Ruta del Sol – as well as taking a stage win in Granada at the latter – will also be focusing on integrating into his new team, as Poels did a year ago.
"To begin with, it's the first time I've changed teams since I turned professional so one of my number one goals is to integrate, feel comfortable and get to know my teammates and the staff. I'm here for three years so I really want to make a solid foundation," he said.
Bahrain Victorious will gather for a training camp in Altea, Spain next week.
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