Pedal Punditry #6 | Tadej Pogacar will only have a C-team behind him at the Giro d'Italia... But it is more than enough

UAE Team Emirates is ready for the Giro d'Italia. Officially, there is not yet the confirmation of the '8' that they will take to the Giro d'Italia, but behind the scenes this is already known. Tadej Pogacar will have a very modest lineup behind him, but this is more than enough in reality.

Gazzetta dello Sport's Ciro Scognamiglio, a very reputable source within the cycling world, has written this Tuesday that UAE Team Emirates will start the Giro d'Italia with the following lineup: Tadej Pogacar, Rui Oliveira, Juan Sebastián Molano, Rafal Majka, Domen Novak, Mikkel Bjerg, Vegard Stake Laengen and Felix Grossschartner. This fits with the rumours that had already been heard over the past few weeks, and most likely will be set in stone in the coming days. This is not UAE's A-team, and not even the B-team. It's a team that is starting the Giro without any pressure and is even allowing other riders to have the chances outside of Pogacar... Quite a stark difference when comparing to the current trend in the peloton.

Whilst until a few years ago it was completely normal to have winning teams start the Giro or the Tour de France with sprinters and their leadouts in the peloton, this is rarely the case now. The explanation is pretty simple; the level is increasingly high, the favourites for the Grand Tours have to prepare even better and there is so little room for error. Pogacar knows this, after spending 15 days in an almost daily battle with Jonas Vingegaard at last year's Tour de France he lost significant time on stage 16, but then completely cracked on stage 17. Visma on the other hand, in 2022, won the Tour after deploying their absolute best 8 riders in the Grand Boucle; an internal battle that lasted months and was picked out at the tiniest of details. Team has become an even more important aspect at the Tour; you simply cannot think of a rider winning it without an incredible team because all of the top teams have two, three or more incredible climbers who can fight for the overall classification and make good use of their numbers.

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Tadej Pogacar wins Liège-Bastogne-Liège 2024 in style and isolated. @Sirotti

So as expected, UAE will start at the Tour de France with Pogacar, Juan Ayuso, Adam Yates, João Almeida, Pavel Sivakov and Marc Soler in the mountains; whilst Tim Wellens will support in the climbs and hilly days; and Tour of Flanders podium finisher Nils Politt will be the sole road captain on the flat days. This is a team built for victory. It has four contenders for the overall classification, three luxury domestiques and one of the absolute biggest powerhouses and most successful riders in the cobbled classics this spring serving as the 'number 8', the rider who will fetch the bottles. But what UAE present at the Giro is of an immense contrast. But UAE find themselves in the perfect position. They have immense amounts of money at the moment which is for example allowing them to net several huge talents on long-term contracts. Only a few days ago, Isaac Del Toro signed what is currently the longest contract in pro cycling.

UAE have several world class GC contenders, several world class classics riders and several of the very best young emerging talents all in one team. Somehow, perhaps because of such a large calendar, most are kept happy and have their freedom to chase results. But it is very fresh to look at their lineup for the Giro. Why, you ask? Pogacar is the overwhelming favourite, and although this does not sound exciting for the race in terms of spectacle, his biggest rival is himself and not his rivals. His climbing level is incredibly high and the competition is very modest. The likes of Geraint Thomas and Ben O'Connor are very strong, but they are no match to Jonas Vingegaard, Primoz Roglic, Remco Evenepoel, Jai Hindley, Carlos Rodríguez, Enric Mas... You get the picture. Some joke that Pogacar can even win the race by an hour. There's logic to this, I truly believe it is very possible that he wins stage 1 and carries the pink jersey from start to finish of the race, winning most or every mountain stage that doesn't fall in the breakaway's hands. He just has to avoid crashes, avoid illnesses and in normal circumstances, he wins the race in dominance that perhaps hasn't been seen since the Team Sky years.

This lack of competition allows UAE to not have to make difficult choices or sacrifices. In all honesty, they just have to get Pogacar to the final climb everyday, and likely no-one will put him under pressure. The team will not start with Jay Vine as planned, over injury. But it's a lineup that is a C-Team. 5 points to justify this:

- The team does not bring Juan Ayuso, Adam Yates, João Almeida, Pavel Sivakov, Marc Soler and Tim Wellens who focus on the Tour de France;
- The team does not bring Brandon McNulty who will not race a Grand Tour this year; or Diego Ulissi who is on the form of his life and recently outclimbed Adam Yates at the Giro d'Abruzzo;
- The team opts not to bring young riders like Isaac Del Toro, António Morgado and Jan Christen, even though they would have no pressure to chase results and could even learn from Pogacar.
- Finn Fisher-Black and Marc Hirschi, two very strong puncheurs, are not lined up to race a Grand Tour this year, in order to chase UCI points and results in the smaller hilly races.
- The team is not even fully focused on Pogacar. Instead, they bring Juan Sebastián Molano to be an outsider for the sprints, and his leadout man Rui Oliveira.

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Juan Sebastián Molano wins stage 12 of the 2024 Vuelta a España. @Sirotti

It is actually quite surprising to see the amount of choices that could be done to make the lineup stronger, that they do not do. This is because they do not feel threatened. No-one will seriously drop Pogacar in normal conditions, and no-one should be able to put him under pressure. Hence, the team has figured these names over the past months and seeing how good his form is, they simply don't feel the need to make changes, and instead let their leaders and young riders continue to have their freedom.

Rafal Majka was in the past Pogacar's right-hand man in the mountains, before the team signed heaps of incredible climbers. He returns to this role. Mikkel Bjerg and Vegard Stake Laengen were key domestiques in the long Tour de France days on several editions in support of Pogacar. In almost unbeliavable fashion, they do not have a place in the Tour's lineup and that's actually understandable taking into consideration who they will take. Domen Novak has been having a tremendous season and played a key support role at the Volta a Catalunya and Liège-Bastogne-Liège for Pogacar. Pogacar's only compatriot in the team, UAE is already looking to renew with him for three more years. Felix Grossschartner supported Pogacar at the Tour last year, he's proven himself as a quality climber who can do very well in such a field.

Most importantly, the team is not even fully centered around Pogacar. Juan Sebastián Molano won a stage at last year's Vuelta a España and was likely given the vote of confidence, alongside his leadout man Rui Oliveira, that they would race the Giro this year. Molano is ultimately the team's only sprinter currently. He will not help Pogacar in the GC, Rui Oliveira may but in the flat stages he will certainly not burn himself for the Slovenian; but instead the duo will make their own race in the final kilometers.

This is the image of a team that is relaxed and despite having their superstar in Italy, their main focus continues to be clearly on the Tour de France - where the full focus is on the yellow jersey. Hopefully it is not the case, but one of the big questions will likely be how many stages will be able able to win and how big will his gap be in Rome.

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Domen Novak leads a group of UAE Team Emirates riders and Tadej Pogacar at 2024 Liège-Bastogne-Liège. @Sirotti

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