George Bennett says Tadej Pogačar hungrier than ever: ‘Losing the Tour de France was best thing that could have happened’

'Tadej not winning the Tour de France was a watershed moment for us as a team,' says key climber Bennett.

Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

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Tadej Pogačar will be hungrier than ever for success as he debuts his 2023 season next week on the gravel roads of Spain at Jaén Paraíso.

That’s according to UAE Team Emirates teammate George Bennett, who says Pogačar and UAE management are intent on winning back the yellow jersey at the Tour de France this summer.

A few miscues and a superior Jonas Vingegaard and Jumbo-Visma cost Pogačar and UAE Team Emirates its third straight yellow tunic last year, but Bennett said the Slovenian star and the rest of the team are raising their collective game.

“I think that loss will almost be a great thing for this team,” Bennett told VeloNews. “We’ve overhauled everything, we’ve looked at everything.

“Before, Tadej just won on pure class,” he said. “And now Tadej and the team is having to look at the finer points, the material, the training, the nutrition, everything. I think it’s going to drive us to be a far better team.”

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Last summer, Jumbo-Visma won its first yellow jersey in franchise history, a victory that was postponed by the sudden arrival of Pogačar in 2020.

Three years ago, the Dutch team finally beat back Tour dominators Ineos Grenadiers and seemingly had the Tour victory within their grasp only to run headlong into Pogačar and the surging UAE Team Emirates.

After the team doubled-down, the stars aligned for Jumbo-Visma in 2022, with Vingegaard bettering Pogačar in the high mountains.

The Dutch team’s depth and consistency served as a warning shot for everyone inside the UAE Team Emirates bus.

“That was a watershed moment for us as a team, Tadej not winning the Tour,” Bennett said. “He is still the best rider in the world, but he was beaten by a team that had every single thing in place.

“I think we need to match that as well. It’s not enough just to have the best rider. I think it will be a good thing for our team.”

UAE bolsters roster, Pogačar tweaks calendar

UAE Team Emirates made some key back-room changes for 2023. (Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

Last year in the Tour, Pogačar went down swinging in trademark attacking style, but saw his UAE team ravaged by illness and injury, with only half the team making it to Paris.

Despite the Tour hiccup, Pogačar enjoyed his most successful season since turning pro even if he didn’t win the Tour, and racked up major wins at Strade Bianche, Il Lombardia, three Tour stage wins, and the overall at Tirreno-Adriatico among his 15 wins last year.

At the top of the peloton, however, no one can afford to stand still, and UAE Team Emirates certainly isn’t.

The team bolstered its 2023 roster by signing Adam Yates, Jay Vine, Tim Wellens and Felix Großschartner while retaining its core base of stars and support riders.

“The recruits are there. We are in a good place now,” Bennett said.

Pogačar is already tweaking his approach to 2023, and will debut on European roads in Spain rather than defend his title at the UAE Tour later this month.

That means less travel and less early season pressure for Pogačar, who is still intent on winning every race he starts, be it the Tour de France or one-day races and stage races.

“For Tadej the plan this year was to keep the base of the calendar more or less the same while making a few adjustments, which is what we’ve done,” sport director Joxean Matxin Fernández said last week.

“Tadej is a rider who likes to keep things fresh and try new things, so starting the year here in Jaén and Andalucía made sense,” he said. “The season will be long so our idea is to build up gradually for the biggest targets.”

Bennett, 32, is hoping to earn his place on the team’s Tour de France squad, and wants to hit out for some early season results at races like the Volta a Catalunya.

“I get my chances in a nice mix of helping Tadej and having a crack myself,” Bennett said. “It is a nice mix, and I am hoping I can cash in this year.

“I do a full Tour de France buildup with the Tour de Suisse, but whether I ride the Tour de France is up in the air,” he said. “At the moment I am trying to play the ball in front of me.

“Fitness wise, I am in a better place than I’ve been in a long time. I feel really good on the bike. I’d love to be at Catalunya tomorrow, with longer climbs.”

Bennett and Pogačar will race together at the Ruta del Sol later this month in Spain.

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