UAE Team Emirates’ Tour de France winner Tadej Pogacar underlined his superstar status with victory in the UAE Tour at Abu Dhabi Breakwater on Saturday.
Runner-up behind Adam Yates 12 months ago, the Slovenian made amends by claiming the lead in the third stage this year and then successfully defending it for the remainder of the seven-stage WorldTour race.
Last year, Yates was declared the winner after the UAE Tour was called off with two stages left following the coronavirus outbreak.
“This is really big,” Pogacar said soon after the final stage of the race. “It was my first goal of the season and my first home race, so it was really important and I’m super happy.
“My team and teammates did a really good job and we took the win. This is one of our best achievements.”
Meanwhile, Lotto-Soudal’s Australian rider Caleb Ewan won the 147-kilometre seventh and final stage of the race when he defeated Deceuninck-QuickStep’s Sam Bennett in a bunch sprint.
Bennett, bidding for a third stage win in the race, was denied as Ewan edged past the Irishman just before the finish line with Phil Bauhaus of Bahrain Victorious taking third spot.
“We came here to win a stage and there was only one more left to take,” Ewan said.
“There was a bit of pressure on me to wrap up with a good result today. It was a bit of a relief when I crossed the line.
“The team went above and beyond and did such a great job. I got to the end in pretty good shape, and that allowed me to do a good sprint.
“I saw Sam coming on the right with a fair bit of speed, and there was room for me to go. That was really the only way out, so I got past his wheel and was allowed to, and had a fair bit of speed.
“I haven't been this far into the year without a win in my whole career. I have big plans for this year. This victory will help me to build my confidence ahead of the races in Europe.”
Yates was lucky to continue in the race after he suffered a nasty crash in the last 40km of the final stage.
He suffered several cuts to his face but didn’t appear to have suffered major injuries as he continued to race after receiving medical assistance.
Yates was brought down in a crash in the peloton, landing face-first on the road alongside a number of his Ineos Grenadiers team-mates.
Pogacar narrowly avoided disaster, having been riding behind a number of the Ineos riders involved.
“I feel super amazing,” Pogacar said at the post race conference. “It’s one of the best races, for sure, with a really good organisation, super good fans and support.
“I worked really hard for this, it’s really amazing, we’re happy and proud. I feel so comfortable here in the UAE. Every time I come here it’s like I’m home.
“It’s hard to win this race, but everything is possible. We focused on this event and now we’ll take it step-by-step this season. We’ll do Tirreno and then take a rest.
“We go race by race. The UAE Tour is great for the beginning [of the season] and I enjoy it. Every single victory will stay in my heart and is special to me.”
Speaking about his next races in Italy this year, Pogacar added: “My form is good. It depends on the day and the weather. But I think we're well prepared. It’s going to be hard though.
“There are a lot of good fighters competing against us. Strade Bianche is difficult, but I enjoy racing there. It’s one of the best for me. After Tirreno, I’ll do the classics, and prepare for the Tour [de France] and the nationals probably. I’ve got quite a busy schedule this year.”