Tadej Pogacar: Anything can still happen at UAE Tour

Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) wins stage 3 of the UAE Tour
Tadej Pogačar of UAE Team Emirates won stage 3 of the 2021 UAE Tour (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

If it’s Jebel Hafeet at the UAE Tour, then it must be Tadej Pogačar and Adam Yates. At last year’s race, they each notched up a victory atop the mountain, and they resumed their duel on the ascent on Tuesday, with Pogačar edging out the Briton in a two-up sprint at the summit.

Twelve months ago, Yates laid the foundations for overall victory by putting a minute into Pogačar on the corresponding stage. Two days later, the UAE Team Emirates rider tried to shake off Yates but had to settle for outsprinting him at the top.

This time out, Pogačar carried the red jersey into the stage and the onus was on Yates to try to distance him. The Briton, riding his first race for Ineos Grenadiers, launched his offensive with a little over 4km to go, attacking forcefully from a reduced leading group that had been splintered by an attack from Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma).

Pogačar was the only rider with the wherewithal to track Yates’ move, and he withstood the Briton’s repeated and sustained accelerations on the approach to the summit. As the road levelled out in the final 400 metres, Pogačar came to the front and he had the speed to take the sprint for a stage victory.

“I knew that Adam is strong and when he attacks, he always does long attacks,” Pogačar said afterwards. “I was kind of suffering on the wheel behind him and he did a really good output for a long time, but I knew at one point he’d need to stop. He did this attack a few times, and I defended myself, so I’m super happy with my performance.”

Pogačar and Yates’ superiority were such that they put 48 seconds into the second group on the road. In the overall standings, Yates is now second overall, 43 seconds down on Pogačar, while João Almeida (Deceuninck-QuickStep) has slipped to third at 1:03. Unlike in 2020, when the race included two ascents of Jebel Hafeet, the final summit finish of the UAE Tour will be on the slightly easier Jebel Jais on stage 5.

“The gap is now a little bit bigger, but the race isn’t finished, anything can still happen,” said Pogačar. “There are still three flat stages with the possibility of crosswind, and one mountain stage. We needed to be prepared, we need to be focused and we go with confidence into the next stages.”

Pogačar won last year’s Tour de France despite being relatively isolated in the final week, but speaking in January, he defended the strength-in-depth of his UAE Team Emirates squad, insisting that they could match Ineos and Jumbo-Visma.

On Tuesday, Pogačar’s teammates Jan Polanc, Davide Formolo and Rafal Majka were prominent at the base of Jebel Hafeet, but Yates’ Ineos companion Daniel Martínez took over with a rasping show of force midway up the ascent.

“I believe in my team and I believe that we are one of the best teams in the world,” said Pogačar. “For me, from my point of view, they are the best guys. From my perspective, we’re the best team, that’s all I can say.”

UAE Team Emirates have made a point of performing strongly in races in the United Arab Emirates, dating back to Rui Costa’s overall victory at the 2017 Abu Dhabi Tour, while Pogačar placed second overall a year ago. He and his teammates had already trained in the United Arab Emirates in January of this year.

“It’s true that this race is our big goal and it’s the first WorldTour race on this year’s calendar,” he said. “It’s hard to start the season at full gas but it’s one of our big objectives of the year and we do our best. We came in with good preparation for this race and we’ll try to take this red jersey home.”

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