Adam Yates leads UAE Team Emirates charge for third home title

The 2020 UAE Tour winner and two-time runner-up set to be lead rider in absence of Tadej Pogacar

Left to right: Dylan Groenewegen, Elia Viviani, Remco Evenepoel, Adam Yates, Peio Bilbao, and Mark Cavendish on the eve of UAE tour in Abu Dhabi on February 19, 2023. AFP
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The UAE Team Emirates are targeting a hat-trick of wins in their home race this week - but their attempt to secure a victory treble will be done without star rider Tadej Pogacar.

The Slovenian has opted out of defending the UAE Tour title he won the last two years, with the 2023 race kicking-off with a 151-kilometre opening stage from Al Dhafra Fort to Al Mirfa on Monday.

UAE Team Emirates have instead named new signing Adam Yates to lead the charge with Brandon McNulty and Jay Vine as other possible candidates for the general classification title.

Yates won the UAE Tour in 2020 and was twice runner-up behind Pogacar during his previous two victories and the 30-year-old certainly has all the elements to retain the title for the team.

“That is the plan,” the Briton told The National at the pre-race conference at Colnago at Hudayriat Island on Sunday. “We have come here with a super-strong team and we have some good options.

“Without Tadej, it’s a different race but still there are strong riders. So, it’s not going to be easy, but I’ll do my best.

“We start on a flat route. They are expecting crosswinds in this stage but there are some big guys in the team to take the pressure off me. I’ll just try to stay behind them and stay out of trouble.”

Yates is making his first appearance this season in what will be his debut for the UAE Team Emirates after signing a three-year deal.

“There is pressure all the time in every race, but we’ll try to do our best to keep this race with us,” he added.

“Obviously, for our team the UAE Tour is a big objective. Personally, it has gone well for me here in the past few years. I’m happy to be back in the UAE.

Adam Yates signed a three-year contract with UAE Team Emirates. Antonie Robertson / The National

“Every year I come, I see new bike paths, which are fantastic for the country, and for us. We have a super strong team and a few more riders who are also able to win the race, like Jay Vine, who already won the Tour Down Under, and Marc Soler.”

Held over seven days, the UAE Tour consists of four sprint stages, a time-trial and two mountain stages.

The final stage is a classic mountain test, finishing on Jebel Hafeet. The 10km climb will be a defining point of the race and will be the last chance for those hopeful of securing the leader’s red jersey to make the difference.

Current world champion Remco Evenepoel of Soudal — Quick-Step will be among the pre-race favourites, with the Belgian having made his one and only appearance in the UAE Tour in 2019.

“After my first participation I feel happy to be back,” said the 23-year-old, who can list victories in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Vuelta a Espana on his impressive CV.

“I’m happy the team let me do this race. The first big day will be the team time trial on Tuesday in which I hope not to lose much time, although we’d prefer to take some time, but it will not be easy.

“With Tim Merlier, we have a good chance to win a sprint. Our goal is at least one stage win and do a good GC for me.”

Another rider returning to the UAE Tour is Mark Cavendish for Astana Qazaqstan Team. He is the reigning British champion and has a glittering history in the UAE, having taken seven victories in his five previous visits.

“I'm delighted to be back at the UAE Tour once again,” he said. “It's a very important race for sprinters in particular, one there's no other race in the world where we're all going head-to-head at the same time.

“It's important for me on a personal level as well, the UAE is like a second home to me and as well as coming here, I also hope to leave with some stage victories.”

Updated: February 19, 2023, 4:51 PM