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UAE’s Tour de France team taking shape at Critérium du Dauphiné

PLA DE LESTANY BANYOLES SPAIN MARCH 23 Brandon Mcnulty of United States and UAE Team Emirates during the 100th Volta Ciclista a Catalunya 2021 Stage 2 a 185km Individual Time Trial stage from Pla de LEstany Banyoles to Pla de LEstany Banyoles 145m ITT VoltaCatalunya100 on March 23 2021 in Pla de LEstany Banyoles Spain Photo by David RamosGetty Images
Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates) at the Volta a Catalunya (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Tadej Pogačar may be missing from the UAE Team Emirates line-up at the Critérium du Dauphiné, but the race is a key test for several of the riders who are hoping to be part of the Slovenian’s support crew when he starts the defence of his Tour de France title next month in Brest

Among the UAE line-up at the Dauphiné, Brandon McNulty, Mikkel Bjerg, Ivo Oliveira and Alexander Kristoff are all under consideration for selection and are looking to impress.

The race didn’t start well for young American McNulty, who was primed as the team’s main GC hope at the Dauphiné but lost four-and-a-half minutes on the opening stage at Issoire. “We had a bit of a disaster of a day yesterday, sometimes it happens like that,” said UAE DS Allan Peiper just before the start of the second stage in Brioude. “Brandon broke a spoke five kilometres from the base of the climb, came back at the base of the climb, but the effort cost him a bit too much, he exploded.

“I don’t know so much if it was the broken wheel, or that he wasn’t feeling so good, that’s something we need to look at. He’s been at altitude, training in the US. Maybe he came back a little bit too late,” added Peiper, who believes that McNulty still has a shot at a top 10 finish given the difficulty of the mountain stages in the Dauphiné’s final three days

Peiper described himself as “not worried but a little bit concerned” when asked about the American’s faltering start. “To be great in the Tour de France, you need to be good already in the Dauphiné. But travelling intercontinental and arriving only a few days before and coming from altitude can create a little bit of stress on the body that can have an adverse effect, especially on the first day of the race. So hopefully, he gets better day by day and by the weekend is really good.”

McNulty’s setback also resulted in Danish time trial specialist Mikkel Bjerg losing the same amount of time after he dropped back to help his American teammate. “He was a bit disappointed last night because he had it in the back of his mind that if he does a good time trial on stage four, he might be able to take the yellow jersey which in itself is disappointing,” said Peiper, who revealed that Bjerg spent the two days prior to the Dauphiné looking over the stage four TT course.  

The Australian DS was unequivocal, though, when it came to the question of Bjerg’s selection for a Tour debut. “I don’t think that’s a question. We really need him at the Tour de France. He’s in good shape, and if everything goes right he’ll be there in Brest,” said Peiper. “He’s a super strong kid and he climbs really well for his weight. He possibly lacks a little bit of experience in some things and needs to get that, but we need him in the Tour and that’s the most important thing.”

Winner of the opening stage of last year’s Tour de France, Alexander Kristoff is currently on the reserve list for Tour selection, but Peiper isn’t counting out the highly experienced Norwegian’s chances of lining up alongside Pogačar in Brest. “He had a less than good start to the season because a lot of races were cancelled in February and he needs that load to be good for Paris-Nice, to be good for the Classics, and he missed out on that February block. Having said that, he's done quite a lot of racing in May, done three stage races more or less, and comes here to Dauphiné in pretty good shape,” said Peiper.

He explained that Kristoff brings an awful lot more to UAE’s Tour team than his regular knack of taking bunch sprint victories. “I think the most important thing with Alex is what he brings to the team in the sense of atmosphere,” said Peiper. “OK, he can ride in the wind, he can look after Tadej, he can do a sprint, he took the monkey off our backs last year by winning stage one in the Tour de France, but he also brings that atmosphere to the team, playing his music full gas, making jokes, and you need that in the team to keep it light because there’s enough stress already. I’ve only realised in the last few months the difference he made to the team because of that atmosphere.”

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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014). 

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