In Rui Costa and Diego Ulissi, UAE Team Emirates have two outside chances for overall victory at the Tour Down Under. Former world champion, Costa makes his debut at the WorldTour race while Ulissi won a stage and finished third overall in 2014.
After Costa won the Abu Dhabi Tour and Ulissi took victory at GP de Montréal and the Tour of Turkey’s general classification in 2017, the team is gunning for more success with the duo to kick start the team's 2018 WorldTour season, while new leader Dan Martin, Alexander Kristoff and Fabio Aru opt for a more traditional start to the season.
Guiding the team Down Under is Philippe Mauduit in his first race with UAE Team Emirates. Mauduit was the sports director with the duo in 2015 and 2016 on the Lampre-Merida squad, reuniting this season having spent last year with Bahrain-Merida.
"When you have two guys like Rui and Diego, even when it is the beginning of the season, we are here to try and win," Mauduit told Cyclingnews of the team tactics for the race.
"Whether we make it or not, we don't know yet. There is a big bunch here and we know that some guys are already ready and eager to win as well. With the team we have, we have to try. It is an obligation. I know the riders are ready and maybe somebody is more physically ready than us, but we'll see day by day. After Stirling, we will have a small idea of what is possible or not."
With Willunga Hill better suited to the pure climbers of the bunch rather than UAE Team Emirates' puncheurs, Mauduit is looking to the stage 2 finish in Stirling, where Ulissi won in 2015, and the new Uraidla stage 4 finale as opportunities to shake up the GC.
Sagan could be a threat
Although Richie Porte (BMC) starts as the favourite to defend the race leader's ochre jersey, depending on how the Norton Summit in the final of stage 4 is ridden, Mauduit believes world champion Peter Sagan poses a genuine overall threat.
"It can be a stage for Sagan. It will depend on how fast the bunch will go from the start of the climb to the top," he said of stage 4. "If we wait too much, Peter will be at the top and for sure the winner of the stage. It is a long way to go [until then]."
Sagan won the traditional pre-Tour Down Under People's Choice Classic criterium Sunday night ahead of Andre Greipel and Caleb Ewan. A result that Mauduit believes will matter very little once the race proper starts Tuesday in Port Adelaide.
"It is only one-hour racing. We saw the pace was very fast on the last two, three laps but before that, it was a traditional criterium," he said. "It is not a race that we can understand something about the fitness of riders."
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