Tour de France: Tadej Pogacar ready for title defence 'challenge' as UAE Team Emirates name line-up

Slovenian given team designed to support his bid for a second Grand Tour victory

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Tadej Pogacar has said he "can't wait for the challenge" of defending his Tour de France title after UAE Team Emirates announced the lineup that will support him in his quest.

Pogacar, then 21, made history in September when he became the youngest Tour de France champion in 116 years and first winner from Slovenia. With the Grand Tour race back in its usual June-July slot following last year's pandemic-enforced rescheduling, Pogacar returns as one of the leading contenders.

Not only is the Slovenian the defending champion, but he enters the Tour in fine form following a successful season.

He began the year with victory in the Tirreno–Adriatico, before winning the team's home race at the UAE Tour. Pogacar then won his first Classic at Liege–Bastogne–Liege, and most recently took the title at the Tour of Slovenia.

“It’s a privilege to be back to the Tour as the defending champion," Pogacar, 22, said. "It’s been a tough year for a lot of people and we hope we can give everyone three weeks of exciting racing.

"My year so far has gone really well and I’m really looking forward to starting this Tour with good preparation and good condition. I am confident in myself and my team, we can’t wait for the challenge.”

To aid Pogacar's challenge, UAE Team Emirates have named a team designed to support their lead rider. He will be joined by Portugal's former world champion Rui Costa, Italian Davide Formolo, Norwegian rider Vegard Stake Laengen, Brandon McNulty of the United States, Poland's Rafal Majka, Mikkel Bjerg of Denmark, and Swiss Marc Hirschi.

The UAE Team Emirates lineup for the 2021 Tour de France. Courtesy UAE Team Emirates

“Our aim for this year is clear: we are going to try and defend the title which Tadej claimed last year, so we have built a team around him," team manager Joxean Matxin Fernandez said.

"We have a good mix of youth and experience to support Tadej with a strong block of climbers and also solid riders for the flat roads.

"Obviously we’ll be heavily marked by the other teams and it’s not going to be an easy task, but we are confident and know that a big result is well within the capabilities of Tadej and the team.”

The 2021 Tour de France, which starts on Saturday from Brest and concludes on July 18 in Paris, will cover 3,383km over 21 stages, including two individual time trials.

Much of the first week will be spent on the flat, rolling roads of Brittany before transitioning over to the Alps and onto the Pyrenees before the riders arrive at the Champs Elysees in Paris.