With the pressure of retaining his UAE Tour crown behind him, UAE Team Emirates star Tadej Pogacar’s next goal is completing a hat-trick of Tour de France titles.
The Slovenian, 23, won the seventh and final stage of the UAE Tour from Adam Yates of Ineos Grenadiers at the summit of Jebel Hafeet on Saturday.
“I want to enjoy this career in cycling as long as possible,” Pogacar told The National as he helped to launch a new cycling academy programme by Aldar, in partnership with UAE Team Emirates, at Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, on Sunday.
“I’m in good shape and good races are coming, so I say to myself just go and enjoy the races. I love cycling and I love racing. That’s my goal, to enjoy what I’m doing now."
Pogacar revealed that winning the UAE Tour for the second time was the team’s big goal from the start of the season.
“We have been preparing hard for this race,” he said. “And now we have done it, we are really proud and happy to win our home race.
“With this race behind us, there is no pressure any more. There is always a bit of pressure when you know you are defending a title, especially when it’s the home event for a home team, it’s really important.
“You need to bring the A game to the table in such races. I put some pressure on myself trying to do my best, and when you do your best you cannot do anything else. You don’t have to regret on anything.”
The UAE Team Emirates rider believes the team is “super strong” this year and is in good shape to win a lot titles.
“We have some new faces in the team and we understand each other really well,” he said.
“As teammates we fit in perfectly. This year we are going to be super strong, and for me, the main objective is the Tour de France, followed by the Vuelta a Espana.”
Pogacar is aware of the task ahead.
“To defend a title every year is very hard in cycling,” he said. “It’s so hard to predict because of the competitiveness. I just hope the preparation goes well and like every year we have to take [it] step by step.
“The Tour de France is the main goal this year again. I can now really focus on this race with the UAE Tour out of the way.”
Pogacar was presented the UAE Golden Visa on the podium after being crowned the UAE Tour winner.
“I was really honoured to receive the Golden Visa,” he said. “I was really surprised and a huge thank you to everyone.
“Now I can visit the UAE more frequently and perhaps spend my holidays as well. When I come here, I love it. I’m really happy to see cycling growing here.”
Pogacar and his UAE Tour teammates joined a group of young cyclists to launch UAE Team Emirates Cycling Academy presented by Aldar at a special event at Aldar Square on Yas Island.
“Cycling has always been my biggest passion, so it’s an honour to be involved in this project,” he said.
“I think it’s a fantastic sport for people of all ages and abilities - especially young children. It’s a great form of exercise, because it helps to increase fitness, muscle strength and flexibility, as well as improving mobility.
“It’s also loads of fun! Watching the kids here today reminds me of when I learnt to cycle. It’s a sport that [has] given me so much in life, so I want to give back and to help inspire the next generation of cyclists.”
Salwa Al Maflahi, director of sustainability and CSR at Aldar said promoting well-being and healthy lifestyles is something Aldar are passionate about.
“We are thrilled to partner with UAE Team Emirates on this exciting new programme,” she said.
“With initiatives such as this, we hope to encourage young people to engage in a more active lifestyle - and in doing so, cultivate a health-conscious next generation.”