UAE Tour, Stage 1:
The UAE Tour started in “full gas” at the very beginning of the first stage for which everyone was expecting to be a warmup ahead of the time trial and the first mountain stage. The proof that cycling can be a very unpredictable sport was shown in Sunday’s first flat stage when the Peloton literally fell apart after only a few kilometers due to strong crosswinds. The “groups” later managed to unite, but not for long. Before the intermediate sprint, the main platoon fell apart once again and the group of around 25 riders continued at a strong pace all the way to the finish line. None of the riders left behind was able to catch and join the leading group anymore. The gap behind the leading group was only growing and ended with a wide gap of more than 8 minutes. Many captains of favored teams aiming for an overall victory dropped out of the fight on the very first day! Good positioning in the group and good legwork enabled Tadej to stay in front of the race with three of his teammates. They stood by his side at all times, dictated the pace and in the end also covered some dangerous escapes of Quick-Step competitors, who had as many as 5 riders in front of the race. The seemingly completely undemanding stage eliminated many team favorites from the fight for the overall victory. Tadej also picked up two bonus seconds in one of the intermediate sprints. He won 6th place in the finish line sprint and was 5th in the overall standings with 8 seconds behind the race leader.

A very difficult stage is behind us with a lot of crosswinds. We did a great job together with the team. There were four of us in front, unfortunately, we did not manage to win the stage, but we showed that we are well prepared and can fight with the best. I think that in the continuation of this home race we have a great opportunity for a resounding result. ” summed up Tadej after the stage.

UAE Tour, Stage 2:
The second stage, scheduled for Monday 22.1. was a 13km long time trial. The completely flat track, spiced with strong wind, was also a real challenge for Tadej and was a real indicator of the form of each individual. Tadej did an excellent run, finishing 4th overall, and taking the red jersey as the new race leader. Before the start of the time trial, news came in that the winner of the first stage, Mathieu Van der Poel, will unfortunately not compete, as his team was ejected from the race, because one of the team members tested positive for the Covid-19 test. All cyclists and team staff were isolated as a preventative measure.

“I think I drove a great time trial. I managed to squeeze everything out of myself and distribute the forces correctly along the entire route. Given the rather short and completely flat route, I can be very satisfied and look with optimism towards tomorrow’s first mountain stage. Of course, the advantage over the second-place rider is minimal (5 seconds) however I still managed to put myself in a position where others have to attack. Of course, the end is still far away and nothing has been decided yet. Tomorrow’s stage will feature a final climb which I know very well as we drove it twice in last year’s UAE Tour along with the training that was done here only a month ago. Of course, it’s “easier” if you know the track, but it doesn’t help you much if you don’t have the right legs that day«  said Tadej.

UAE Tour, Stage 3:
According to the profile of the third stage, it was known in advance that this stage will give answers to who can fight for the overall victory. The UAE team defending the leading cyclist’s red jersey was in the forefront at all times, dictating a moderate pace. There were two breakaways riders in the foreground, but they did not pose a major danger to Tadej. After half of the stage, the pace was slightly raised by the other teams, so that the advantage of the two leading riders before the start of the climb melted to a good minute.

The team brought Tadej to the foot of the ascent right in a great position in front of the main group while Jan Polanc kept the high pace for the first few kilometers. When  Adam Yates’ assistants came to the front of the peloton, 5.9km before the finish line, the pace kept increasing. The Peloton started to become smaller and smaller until only the best riders were left together. Sepp Kuss was the first to attack 5km before the finish line, but Tadej and Yates followed him without any problems. Yates took advantage of his attempt and launched another attack, which could only be followed by Tadej. Yates then tried another four times to shake off Tadej, each time unsuccessfully, although his attacks were very strong and long (approx. 30 seconds). At the very end of the stage, the Slovenian young superstar took advantage of his position and good knowledge of the track layout and swung past Yates at the right moment. What remained was only a sprint towards the two chicanes and the finish line. The duel of two leaders ended with the first victory for Tadej Pogačar in the 2021 season.

“We wanted a victory and we got it! A difficult and also quite stressful day is behind us as we were all afraid of the wind and the possible problems that might come along with it. The team did a really great job and made sure that I was in a great position at the start of the final climb. My teammates dictated the pace perfectly until the halfway point of the climb, so my only concern was to cover the attacks of the main rivals. It was difficult, but I am very happy that I managed to win the stage in the end. I was very familiar with the course layout in the final meters of this stage, so I knew I had to get in first position entering the chicanes before the finish and that is what I did. It was extremely hard to overtake someone in the last turn before the finish line. The advantage in general calssification is now a few seconds higher, however this race is still far from being over. We still have four more difficult stages ahead of us, so every extra second is always welcomed” said Tadej after the race.

Photo: BettiniPhotoFizza