UAE Team Emirates toying with grand tour co-leaderships outside of Tour de France

'From the first race until the last, it’s about having a balanced line-up for the team,' says Joxean Fernández.

Photo: Getty Images

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Although Tadej Pogačar is an automatic lock for the Tour de France, the leadership questions at UAE Team Emirates surrounding next year’s other grand tours look far more fluid.

One option that the team is discussing internally is the idea of sending multiple GC co-leaders to grand tours and other major stage races in 2023 with João Almeida, Juan Ayuso, Davide Formolo, Brandon McNulty, Marc Soler, and new signing Adam Yates all rotating throughout the WorldTour calendar as the team looks to establish itself as the premier squad in the UCI rankings.

The team took such an approach heading into this year’s Vuelta a España with Ayuso, Almeida, and McNulty all given the chance to determine and establish their own GC bids. McNulty fell to illness, while Ayuso burst through with a fine podium and Almeida rebounded from his COVID-hit season to round out the top five.

Also read: Analysis: How vital is 2023 for Brandon McNulty’s grand tour ambitions?

The team will meet in the coming week for its first postseason get-together in Abu Dhabi. From there, initial plans will be penciled in before grand tour routes are unveiled and plans become more concrete.

One of the biggest challenges facing the management of the team will be balancing the need for collective success with the individual aspirations of riders who can all claim to be legitimate GC contenders.

“We have a really good structure. If you look at this year, Almeida had a very good space for the Giro d’Italia. He had COVID but it’s the same for Ayuso at the Vuelta. It’s important to make a program for everyone. So maybe we have co-leaders in some races but that makes us stronger,” Joxean Fernández told VeloNews.

“We give the new riders options when it comes to joining one of the best teams in the world. It’s not about achieving the position of first or second or third in the team. It’s about creating the best calendar and sporting space for all the riders and then making sure that we are competitive through the season. From the first race until the last. It’s about having a balanced lineup for the team.”

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It’s clear that new recruit Adam Yates will be a central figure for the team going forward. His one-week pedigree and consistency make him one of the best riders in the world and a sure bet for vital UCI points. Where the British climber sits in terms of GC for major tours, however, is a little less clear.

He has the capacity to challenge for major results and one theory is that he will have leadership for all week-long races he attends that do not overlap with Pogačar’s participation. Again, much will be talked through and mapped out at the first training camp in the off-season.

“We have a training camp in October in UAE. It’s our first contact with the new riders and a chance to have the clothing fitting with the sponsors. The first conversations with Adam were positive and I talked with him. I know his level and where he can have his opportunities but we’ll talk in the next month in Abu Dhabi when it comes to his ideas and those of the teams,” said Fernández.

“After that week we’ll have a final calendar for next year. There are lots of changes in the calendar next year with the Worlds and other races moving, and we don’t know what will happen with COVID next year, so there are lots of questions still to be answered. After we analyze the calendar the plans will be more concrete and we’ll decide for Adam Yates which grand tour he does and his position in the team.”

Where Ayuso and Almeida are posted remains unclear at this point, too.

A tilt at the Giro d’Italia for both riders would make sense given their trajectories and Almeida’s unfinished business with the Italian race, but with Fernández indicating that McNulty might have a chance to co-lead at the same race, the pecking order could become slightly crowded.

When asked about Almeida and Ayuso specifically, Fernández said: “I don’t know. The most important race is the Tour de France and it’s important, as I said, to give sporting space to riders like Ayuso and Almeida. We believe in our young talents and their qualities. I think that Ayuso is a major talent for the future and deserved what he did at the Vuelta. He did four races, was fifth in Catalunya, then he was up there in Romandie, and was in the top 10 again at the Dauphine. His fourth WT race was the Vuelta and so we believe in him. We’re going to make a custom calendar for him.”

That first training camp in Abu Dhabi will be a major stepping stone in the team’s plans heading into 2023.

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