UAE Tour 2024: UAE Team Emirates embrace pressure of home race expectations

UCI World Tour's No 1 team and lead rider Adam Yates are favourites to win the general classification

UAE Team Emirates leader Adam Yates prepared for the UAE Tour by winning the Tour of Oman. AFP
Powered by automated translation

UAE Team Emirates possess such strength in depth nowadays that even without Tadej Pogacar for this year's UAE Tour, the home team are regarded as runaway favourites for the general classification title.

Pogacar, the world's best road cyclist and two-time UAE Tour winner, is preparing for a Giro d'Italia-Tour de France double – not to mention the Paris Olympics – so his schedule is tailored specifically around his Grand Tour ambitions.

That, however, has not left UAE Team Emirates short of options. Far from it, in fact. Team leader Adam Yates is widely considered the man to beat, while teammates Brandon McNulty and Jay Vine are respectively billed second and third among the pre-race favourites.

There are, of course, seven days of competitive racing against a high-quality field before the team can entertain thoughts of triumph. But there is a very real possibility that UAE Team Emirates could lock out the GC podium – and in their home race, too.

Such expectations are in contrast to the team's earlier days in the first edition of the UAE Tour in 2019. Back then, and having only been formed two years earlier, the highest they placed was seventh in the GC. In the five years since, UAE Team Emirates have evolved into a force, becoming the highest-ranked team on the UCI World Tour. Success is no longer hoped for but assumed.

"It’s the home race so a little bit of pressure, a little bit of stress, but it’s not something we’re not used to," Yates told The National. "Hopefully we can work well as a team, stay out of trouble, and try not to make any mistakes. It’s going to be a good race."

Teammate Vegard Stake Laengen agreed that the stakes are higher for UAE Team Emirates than the rest of their rivals in the peloton.

"We feel the pressure quite a lot because it’s the home race and all our sponsors are from here," the Norwegian, 35, told The National. "We always joke that it’s a mini Tour de France for us!"

Yates is happy to embrace that pressure. The 31-year-old British rider prepared for the UAE Tour with a victory in the Tour of Oman on his season debut, and returns to the Emirates as one of the tour's most successful riders; Yates has competed four times, winning in 2020, finishing second twice to Pogacar, and third once.

That experience of what it takes to win here, combined with his career-best form, is why he is backed as the man to be wearing the GC's red jersey by the end of the seventh and final stage. Crucially, it is Yates' prowess on Jebel Hafeet that sets him apart. Of the five stages to finish on the mountain, Yates has won twice, finished second twice, and third once.

UAE Tour 2024 route and road closures

"It's been good every time I’ve been here but to be honest the race doesn’t suit me down to the ground," said Yates, who finished third in last year's Tour de France. "I have the last climb on Jebel Hafeet which suits me quite well but in terms of the actual race, there’s a lot of flat stages and dangerous stages with the crosswind.

"And in the TT (time trial) for sure I’m going to lose some time to the other GC guys. I wouldn’t say it’s the perfect race for me but it’s a race that’s worked well for me in the past, so hopefully, everything falls into place."

Indeed, the second stage individual time trial on Hudayriyat Island is where Yates will hope teammates McNulty, Vine, and Mikkel Bjerg can lead the collective effort. McNulty arrived in the UAE after claiming the biggest stage-race win of his career at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, while Vine won the Australian National Time Trial title in 2023 and Bjerg is a time trial specialist.

"Hopefully, we can work well as a team, it’s obviously not just me," Yates said. "We’ve got Brandon who came out of Valencia really well and got a win there and the TT suits him really well. Then there’s Jay Vine. He hasn’t been 100 per cent, he’s had a small injury so we’re not exactly sure how he’s going to be but when he’s at his best he can perform at a super high level."

While the GC title will ultimately be decided on the two mountain stages and in the time trial, UAE Team Emirates will also aim to be competitive in the four sprint stages.

That responsibility falls on Colombian Sebastian Molano and his trusted lead-out man Ivo Oliveira. Twice a Grand Tour stage winner and once at the UAE Tour last year, Molano has the pedigree to mix it with the best sprinters in the world, many of whom are in the UAE.

The team is therefore well-stocked to tackle all challenges presented by the 2024 UAE Tour and are in a strong position to live up to all the pre-race hype.

"We have a really competitive team," Laengen said. "We expect to fight for stage victories every day."

Updated: February 18, 2024, 2:25 PM