With the Tour de France looming, cycling writers the world over have been busy whipping up race previews and making predictions about who could win. It’s no secret that defending champion Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) and two-time winner Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) are the big favorites, and a common refrain for most analysts ahead of the race is that Vingegaard is the one with a far stronger team.
Is he though?
If anything, it’s close. A lot closer than you might think. This UAE squad looks like the strongest yet to head to the Tour in support of Tadej Pogačar, while the superstar that is Primož Roglič is conspicuously absent from Jumbo-Visma’s roster.
Obviously any attempt to compare one year’s configuration of seven supporting riders to another year’s configuration of seven supporting riders is going to be a subjective exercise, but there’s nothing wrong with a bit of subjectivity. That said, if you want numbers, the cumulative current ProCyclingStats points total of this year’s UAE squad for the Tour is far higher than it was for the past few Tour teams, and that is also true of the cumulative points total for all the riders on UAE’s squad other than Pogačar.
While no rider rating system is perfect, PCS ratings seem about as valid as any other metric.
By PCS points, Jumbo has a stronger team than UAE, and Jumbo’s seven non-Vingegaard riders are a little ways ahead of UAE’s non-Pogačar seven too, but it’s not a huge gap. What’s more, a big portion of those points come from Classics star and sprinter Christophe Laporte, who isn’t likely to be at Vingegaard’s side on the Col de la Loze.
Whether you’re using arbitrary ratings or your eyes, much of UAE’s step forward comes down to one huge addition to the team: Adam Yates. After starting his career with the GreenEdge organization and then spending two years with the Ineos Grenadiers, the 30-year-old Brit joined UAE this season. Having ridden to a solid ninth at last year’s Tour, he promptly showed off a terrific level of form with his new team this season.
His recent performances in the Alps, where he won a stage and the overall at the Tour de Romandie and rode to runner-up honors behind Vingegaard at the Critérium du Dauphiné, would almost certainly be impressive enough to establish him as the main focus for most other teams heading to Le Tour.
Instead, he will be making his eighth career Tour start as another card to play for a team that already has Pogačar as a headliner. So far in his career, the Slovenian wunderkind has never had a fellow GC rider of this caliber and form on his support staff. The once-mighty Fabio Aru was far from his best and abandoned before the halfway mark in Pogačar’s first Tour win, and George Bennett, who left last year’s race after the ninth stage, can be a solid contributor but did not bring what Adam Yates brings to the table right now.
For the first time so far in UAE’s stint as a team legitimately contending for yellow, the squad can potentially take a two-pronged approach to the race. The team has even named Yates a co-leader. It doesn’t really matter whether that’s actually true or just a feint. The fact is that he is a potential card to play, and that alone is huge for Pogačar. Just think about how huge it was for Vingegaard last year to have Primož Roglič.
On perhaps the most thrilling Tour stage in a decade, Vingegaard and Roglič worked together to crack a rider who, until that point, seemed invincible. Forced to respond when either Jumbo rider applied pressure, Pogačar was worn down over time until Vingegaard delivered the knockout blow. That Roglič didn’t finish the race in the end didn’t really matter; the threat was there when it counted.
This year, Pogačar actually has a climber who at least could be able to play a similar role. Whether Yates is up to the challenge remains to be seen, and sure, Vingegaard was still significantly better than Yates en route to his Dauphiné win, but an in-form Dauphiné runner-up is undeniably a major asset for UAE.
Meanwhile, other reliable contributors from years past remain the mix for UAE Pogačar, including ever-present climbing ace Rafał Majka, the always-entertaining Marc Soler, and diesel engine Mikkel Bjerg, himself looking as strong as ever too after winning the time trial at the Dauphiné. Yates slots into a UAE Tour squad whose core has already proven plenty capable of helping propel Pogačar to victory in the past, and so too does underrated Austrian all-rounder Felix Großschartner, who joined the team for the 2023 season after several years with Bora-Hansgrohe.
Jumbo-Visma’s lineup, on the other hand, seems significantly weakened compared to last year. Sure, the incomparable Wout van Aert is making the start, but he also might be leaving the race early. Even more importantly, where UAE’s Tour squad seems to have added a substantial amount of firepower for the mountains mostly due to the addition of one big name, Jumbo-Visma is missing one in Roglič. There’s also no Steven Kruijswijk, who suffered multiple fractures in a recent crash.
In their stead, Jumbo does have the luxury of being able to turn to Wilco Kelderman and Dylan van Baarle, so it’s not as if there will be a huge hole in the lineup, but even that very talented duo is unlikely to threaten Pogačar the way that Roglič might. Both riders should be able to make big contributions alongside Sepp Kuss and Tiesj Benoot setting a hard tempo in tricky spots, but neither they nor anyone else on the team will worry Pogačar quite as much as Roglič would attacking on the terrain where it really matters.
It’s still a very strong Jumbo-Visma squad, but it looks like a team that is less dynamic than it was in 2022 without the Roglič card to play. UAE, on the other hand, has improved. All things considered, the teams look more closely matched now than they were last year, when Vingegaard and Co. were able to take the race to Pogačar. Now, instead of being as likely as not to be isolated on the climbs, the two-time winner could be making his way skyward with a teammate in the mix.
In the immediate term, it’s worth noting that Thursday’s team presentation in Bilbao was not the first time that Adam Yates has donned a txapela in his career. After all, a young Yates stormed to victory at the Clásica San Sebastián back in 2015, so he certainly knows the Basque roads that await in the first few stages of this year’s Tour.
Considering how much of a Grand Tour star Tadej Pogačar already proved to be in the past few seasons, imagine what he could do with that kind of a rider as a teammate, and without having to worry about his Slovenian compatriot and rival every time the road goes up …
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