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UAE Team Emirates: No room to relax as Tour de France far from decided

Tour de France 2021 108th Edition 10th stage Albertville Valence 1907 km 06072021 Tadej Pogacar SLO UAE Team Emirates photo Luca BettiniBettiniPhoto2021
Tadej Pogačar of UAE Team Emirates at the start of stage 10 in Albertville (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

As Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) continues his crushing domination of the Tour de France general classification, the squad’s management are doing their utmost not to let what is effectively a dream scenario go to their heads.

Team manager Joxean Fernández Matxin, who played a key role in overseeing Pogačar’s victory last year, is once again at the centre of affairs at the Tour this year.

But as Matxin told reporters at the Tour on Tuesday morning, 24 hours prior to Pogačar’s next crucial mountain test in the shape of a double ascent of Mont Ventoux, UAE Team Emirates are doing anything but getting complacent. That’s even if the current evidence is that the Tour’s GC winds are currently very much blowing in Pogačar’s favour.

“The Tour is no way over,” Matxin said. “I think, frankly, Tadej is at a similar level to other years. But we’ve got to be cautious and respectful, because this isn’t over until the final finish line. There’s no way we can relax right now.”

Matxin confirmed that rather than trying to take as many stage wins as possible along with the Tour overall, their race strategy is centred purely on GC. It’s a strategy that he claimed owed nothing to other Tour winning teams’ approaches to the race, rather “we want to have our own identity. For better and for worse, we’re trying to be ourselves.”

As for how the squad is managing the relative novelty of controlling a Grand Tour, with Pogačar leading by 2:01, Matxin said: “We’re playing it as cool as we can. We trust our team, the team trusts Tadej, Tadej trusts the team and trusts himself.

“But so far we’re just one week and a bit in. There are two weeks to go. We have to keep our feet on the ground.”

When it comes to Pogačar’s attacking style, not just winning the first TT but opening up the throttle on the first mountain stage as well, Matxin said that he was a fan. But it was not only Pogačar he felt is racing in a far more aggressive style than older, more conservative riders, but Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) as well.

“I like the way Van der Poel was in yellow but went for it right from the start of one stage that was more than 250 kilometres long,” he said. “Van Aert’s the same, fighting for the win each day and not thinking about tomorrow. It’s a non-conformist, young riders’ attitude to racing. That’s great. And of course Tadej is like that too.”

Matxin was speaking on the eve of the ultra-difficult Ventoux stage. But rather than any specific stage between here and Paris possibly proving decisive for the GC battle, Matxin said his strategy was to take the race one day at a time.

“A lot depends in each stage on who’s in the break, which leaders are out there in the move, and then just seeing how each stage plays out,” he observed. “We’ve had a very tough start to the Tour, let’s see if things calm down a bit now."

Away from the Tour, the question of who could be racing in UAE Team Emirates in 2022 is already subject of much debate. In the Spanish media it’s been reported that Marc Soler, currently with Movistar, could be one possible transfer.

However, Matxin refused to comment on any rumours, saying simply he is waiting until August 1, when the official transfer window opens. In the meantime, he and UAE Team Emirates likely have other matters taking priority.

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.