Rider Interviews: 2019 has probably been UAE Team Emirates best season so far since the team hit the road at the start of 2017. Sprint wins form Fernando Gaviria and Alexander Kristoff’s Gent-Wevelgem victory were high points, but the performance from young Slovenian Tadej Pogačar in Spain, California and the Algarve shows great promise for the future. The team are in the UAE at the moment and we caught up with their top four riders to hear about the 2019 season and look-forward to 2020.
The emotions of the UAE Team Emirates at La Vuelta 2019
Tadej Pogačar emerged as one of the up and coming ‘Young Guns’ of 2019. Along with the likes of Mathieu van der Poel, Remco Evenepoel, Wout van Aert, Richard Carapaz, Egan Bernal and the others. In August Pogačar started the Vuelta a España, won three stages and was heading towards a podium place. Nairo Quintana and Miguel Angel Lopez jumped ahead of him, but a 40 kilometre solo win on stage 20 put him back on the podium and into the best young rider jersey. Add the overall wins in the Tour of California and Volta ao Algarve and you have a fine palmarès in just one year for the 21 year-old Slovenian.
Pogačar made it to the Vuelta podium
An amazing first year on the WorldTour. What surprised you the most about your experience?
The biggest surprise was the Vuelta, but I surprised myself every race this year. Really amazing year!
We all knew you were strong going into the Vuelta at what point during the race did you realise ‘I can keep going’.
Yes, I knew I was prepared. The first week was difficult for me and the second week I was feeling really good. End of the second week I said to myself that I need to push this through and will go for a top 5 place. The last week I just worked hard and gave everything.
When did you start believing that you could really get yourself on that podium next to the champion Roglic?
I think that was at stage 20. During the race 5 kilometres to the finish line and I realised I can be on the podium.
The best of Tadej Pogačar
What kind of feeling did you get when you finally knew that you had done something unbelievable?
It was amazing, I just kept going so long and they told me on the radio that with my performance I can go for a podium place. It was amazing.
Vuelta stage 20 solo
Amazing for you, amazing for the UAE. Everyone there was cheering for you, screaming at the TV screens but also in your home country in Slovenia an amazing achievement for cycling this year. Two of you on the podium in the Vuelta.
Yes, since we got Roglic it went all well for Slovenia. We had good riders before, but we never had a podium place. And now we had two Slovenians on the podium. One win and a third place. I think they went crazy in Slovenian.
Did you see when you got back home, how the impact and influence riders like yourself and Roglic have on young kids? Do you see more kids on bikes? Do you see more people watching cycling? Writing about cycling? Getting excited about cycling?
Yes, now it is getting more popular and I think is great. More media covering cycling and it is growing, not that much as football but there are local clubs and you see more kids on a bike and start training.
A big part of the UAE team project is to use your success on the road to inspire kids and young people here to start cycling. How important is it for the riders to come and visit the UAE and meet the cycling community?
It is really important for us to come to the UAE and to see and learn about our sponsor. To see the culture of the people here and encourage the people in the UAE to start riding a bike.
Volta ao Algarve
The Vuelta was obviously a huge success for you and the team, and you have learned a lot about yourself. When you think about any low points in the season what were they and what did you learn from them?
I think I learned a lot this year. I didn’t have so many down holes, but some races were not super good. It is all experiences this year and I think I learned a lot. Next year I can improve a lot more.
There is a clear trend towards WorldTour teams having faith in very young riders. Maybe 10 years ago there wouldn’t have been a 21 year-old rider in Grand Tours. Why do you think that has changed?
New generation is coming. We are a different race team. I think this I how it is. Maybe in 10/15 years there will be another generation/trends and will push us away.
When you talk to older riders, maybe some riders that are now retired, they are always talking about riding on feeling. The younger generation will grow up with data and with power meters. Do you think that plays a huge part with younger riders and why they are being able to proove they are ready at a young age?
I don’t know. I didn’t work that much with my power meters when I was young. Maybe some of them really using all the data and taking advantage of it. I don’t think it is the most important thing in cycling. One of the most important things is to have a good mentality and a good body to train that much.
Vuelta stage 13 win
The team has got a good balance between the youth and experienced riders. Do you get a lot of advice and mentoring from some the guys who have been in the peloton for longer?
Yes, the mixture of generation in this team is really good. We have a lot of experience older riders who can teach the younger once. I learned a lot from them this year and took a lot of advices.
Jan Polanc is a friend of yours. You grew up together. How nice is that to have someone that you know from back home in the team?
I think it is easier to feel accepted and that you have one from your same language. In three weeks, you miss home and when you have someone from your own nation it is easier.
What has been the toughest challenge moving on to the WorldTour? Is it being away from family? Travelling? Physical?
I think being away from home and travelling a lot is tough but the most difficult challenge for me was to be accepted through other teammates. I was really scared in the beginning but they treated me of one of them at my first day so that was really nice.
On the attack with Primoz Roglic
When you look forward to next year, do you already have objectives and plans that you really want to be able to achieve?
Yes, I have always my preference, but we discuss with the team what’s the best for me. Next year is a lot with the Olympic Games, world championships and European championships. Many good races for next year.
Do you have one eye on the Olympics next year? Is that a big focus for you?
Yes, of course! It will be my first Olympics and it is one time in four years so that is really special.
How do you find a difference when you move from racing in your trade team colours to racing into your country colours?
I mean, there is no big difference when it comes to riding for Slovenia. We are all friends because we are such a small country and we know each other. It is easier for us to work together than bigger nations. I am happy with our nation team now.
Do you get advice from other teammates? Did they guide you in the WorldTour races?
Like I said we are all good friends and we can laugh with each other. We make fun but when it comes to races, we are all serious and focussing all together on one thing.
Fun with the kids in UAE
You’re race season is finished. You are in UAE for a team bonding camp. What are you looking forward to the most about the next few days in the UAE.
To meet the new guys and to learn more about each other. With some guys you don’t race a lot in the year, so it is nice to have the entire team here.
I understand you are going go-karting. Who do you think is going to win?
Tadej Pogačar’s results for 2019:
1st, Time trial, National Road Championships
1st, Overall Tour of California, young rider classification and stage 6 win
1st, Overall Volta ao Algarve, young rider classification and stage 2 win
3rd, Overall Vuelta a España, young rider classification and stage 9, 13 and 20 wins
4th, Overall Tour of Slovenia and young rider classification
6th, Overall Tour of the Basque Country and young rider classification
6th, GP Miguel Induráin
7th, Gran Premio di Lugano.
Colombian Fernando Gaviria is one of the fastest finishers in the peloton, but an injury took out the middle part of his 2019 season. A very good start to the season saw wins in Argentina and the UAE, followed by victory in stage 3 in the Giro d’Italia. The end of the season was saved by two stages in the Tour of Guangxi.
How would you describe your season?
There were some ups and downs in my season. We started the season in good condition but later when arriving to the Giro, I had a bad injury and it was really difficult to get back up to 100%. I worked hard every day to try and come back to victory and help the team. In the last race I felt I was back up to my top condition and I’m feeling really good again. We ended the season happy because when I came back we had two more victories and finished the season strong. I am really motivated for next year, now it is time to take my holidays and relax but I will stay focused until I start training again.
The team has gone from 13th to 4th in the world – how proud are you that you’ve helped to achieve that?
There was a change in mentality for the whole team. 13th in the GC is good but now everyone is looking to win every race and that’s really important. We don’t look to be the top 5 or top 3, we always try to win and we’re doing much better. From race to race the team changes a lot but sometimes change is good. All of the staff, all of the mechanics and all of the riders are really strong. For the next season, a lot of new riders have come in and the team will continue to improve step-by-step and move up in the rankings.
Next season sees you reunited with Ruchese, a good friend and good lead-out man – what does that mean to you?
We speak a lot and I’m really happy he made the decision to come here. This season was difficult without one stand out lead out man but having one who is a really good friend and a really good rider will be great for the team. Max can help the whole team not just me, especially the young riders. For sure everyone is happy that Max is here.
In San Juan
It’s a great time for cycling in Colombia. What’s the secret to its popularity?
I don’t know. Cycling in Colombia is now a big sport. People are enjoying riding on the roads, It’s not like going to the gym, you’re not just in one room. People in Colombia have started to enjoy riding the bike and its great to see. For us riders it’s amazing because every year there are more Colombian riders coming to the World Tour, it’s really good for us and the Colombian people.
For people here in the UAE, its really good that they start riding. This team is trying to motivate as many people as possible. The more the better. It is important for the team and riders to try to motivate more people and inspire the younger generation to start riding.
What do you think is enabling these young riders coming through to perform at the highest level?
Cycling now has changed. Irrespective of how old you are, people look at your ability instead. Everyone trains so hard, no one looks at your age. Now if you win, you stay there. There are a lot of young exciting riders coming through. The motivation is there from an earlier age.
Gaviria wins in Guangxi
The route for the Tour de France has just been announced. Are you disappointed at just 3 sprint stages in the whole of the tour?
It is what it is. It’s a really big and important race and I will prepare for this race like all others. For the sponsors and the teams, it’s the most important race in the world.
What is the direction of the team going forward?
I think the team are going in two directions because half are more focused towards the classics and stage wins and the other for the climbers and GC riders like Pogacar and Aru. It’s more people who go really fast in the climb. We will look to do better in the GC but also try to have half the team really fast and with real experience for the classics and spring stages. Half and half.
Tour of Guangxi 2019
What’s been the highlight of your 2019 season?
My best moment is when I won here in Abu Dhabi, it’s our second home. It’s the home of the team. We did the job really well so the boss was happy! I was also really happy when the pain in my knee was over. I feel now I can ride my bike again, now I can enjoy my bike and that is really important for me.
One objective for next season?
Try to win one really big classic. My favourite is Paris-Roubaix but this year I didn’t get chance to race in it because of my injury. Next year will be difficult but we will try again for Milano-Torino. It would be great to win that.
Fernando Gaviria’s results for 2019:
1st, Giro d’Italia stage 3
1st, Tour of Guangxi stage 1 and 5
1st, Vuelta a San Juan stage 1 and 4
1st, UAE Tour stage 2
2nd, Three Days of Bruges–De Panne
4th, Münsterland Giro.
The multi Classics and short stage race winner, Alexander Kristoff looked to be back to his winning ways with eight victories in 2019. The win in Gent-Wevelgem and third place in the Tour of Flanders shows that the 32-year old from Oslo is far from finished.
Kristoff on the Kemmel
Overall, how would you describe your season?
I am quite satisfied with the season. In general, yes there were some ups and downs but I started the season really well. It was a really good start to the year with victory in Gent-Wevelgem and 3rd place in the tour of Flanders. I did some good races after this like winning the tour of Norway General Classification for example. This was maybe only the 4th time in my career that I won a GC. In the build up to the tour of Norway where I won I was sick and it kind of ruined the tour a little bit for me. Usually I would’ve trained but came into the race quite sick, how I won it I don’t really know! I didn’t get the training I think I needed out of it and went into Switzerland not feeling great. Then I was feeling ok at the start of the Tour de France then my body reacted really strange and I gained a lot of weight, I don’t know what really happened. The whole team was struggling, it was not a good experience. After this I settled down, had a bit of a rest and restarted everything which meant my end of the year was quite good. I had victory in Germany, victory in Slovakia and 6th place in the Worlds so I got good results more or less through the year but especially the start of the year was the best.
What was your highlight of the season?
For sure highlight was Gent-Wevelgem. The low point was Tour de France for me but you always remember more the highlights.
The World Championship was a tough race and looked like no one enjoyed it – did it feel as bad riding a bike?
It was really hard and we had to change the rules a bit because of all the water. Sometimes it was a bit strange to go through all these big puddles. For me, the weather usually doesn’t matter, I can always handle bad weather. Maybe it was a disadvantage not to have disk brakes in this type of race but if you have these brakes it also limits other things so you have to give and take equipment wise. The race was a really tough one, you can see that from how many people stepped off. Everyone expected Trentin to win but he was tired and Pedersen took it. So you can get surprising results when its such a tough race but it was cool for Denmark.
How does it feel as one of the more experienced riders seeing these young guys burst onto the scene and do well?
Sport has changed, I think this has happened in a lot of sports. Like in football, you see 30 year olds now being viewed as too old. I think body wise it’s natural you are peaking at 25 but in cycling riders usually perform better later. More experience and you get the hardness but the sport is changing. These guys are starting to train like professionals a lot earlier so maybe they reach their top level also earlier. When I was young I had no chance of doing what these guys are doing now. I used many more years to get to the same level.
Is there a role for the more experienced riders in the team to temper the young guys expectations?
I think you should take what you can when you’re strong enough. If you have the legs, go for the win. Pogacar was killing it in the Vuelta, its good for the team, good for him and good for his career. I was expecting maybe one day he could shine, but he had to do it day in day out at the Vuelta and he did really well. I don’t think anyone could expect him finishing so high in the GC as a first year professional. You will see a lot more from him in the coming years.
In the tour I was learning to suffer a lot I think I will approach some tours a little bit differently. Not big changes but small adjustments like last year where I felt much better. I train more or less the same but small issues, like illness in May was not good for building up to the tour. The year before I was sick building up to the classics. I can see I’m quite vulnerable to getting sick with one month to go to event times. It’s always hard to avoid sickness, especially as I have kids, you must be a bit lucky. Staying healthy is really important.
Tour’19 stage 4
Tour de France Route has just been announced – it looks like there are just 3 sprints. What are your thoughts on this?
The Tour de France is the biggest race, it’s worth 2 or 3 other victories in other tours. It looks like a lot of climbing, it looks hard so I don’t know how we are going to set up the teams for this race. We have a lot of good sprinters with myself, Fernando and Jasper. We may have to split our programmes to have one sprinter in more or less every race so we can compete on the flat stages. We’ve got a great new signing in Ruchese coming in with a vast amount of experience. We were lacking a bit in the lead out this season, but he’s maybe the best lead out man around so we’ll get a lot of experience from him coming in and I’s sure I can learn something from him.
How important are these times together? (Team building activities in UAE)
Some riders that are here, the last time I saw them was also here last year. I don’t know every rider because we have different programmes and compete in different races. It’s nice to get to know the whole team – the riders and the guys that work behind the scenes that you don’t see every day. Team building is important, I think we have go karting and paint-balling organised so it is going to be very fun.
Kristoff takes Gent-Wevelgem
Who do you think will be the best go kart rider?
I have seen some footage of Fernando doing some drifts with his Audi on social media before, so he maybe is the favourite also Mirza on his home track.
How important is getting close to the cycling community here? (Al Hudayriat Island Community Ride Along)
For the cycling communities it’s a fantastic chance to have a professional team with them. Hopefully it gives them the motivation to get out of the house and come for a ride. Maybe for some, it’s the first time, so this could be the kick start they need. They see some people who they know and have seen on tv and it inspires them to join in which is great. It’s an important mission for the team to try and promote a healthier lifestyle for young people of the UAE and it’s important for the future. You can also start today it’s never too late to start training.
How important is it to inspire the youngsters?
I have 2 kids myself, and I know for sure to try to get them to do activities outside is not always easy. You come home from work you’re tired and sometimes it’s easier to put them in front of a screen but its always good to get them out and moving in activities they enjoy.
You’ve now got some time off before your pre season training camp, what are you going to do?
I have already had my holiday because I finished after the Worlds. I will start training again after this meeting. I do a lot in the gym this time of the year, focusing on strength, legs and core. I train a lot with free weights. I do 3x a week in the gym and 2 long rides on the roads. With one month to go until the training camp in December I have a weekly routine of 3x in the gym and 2 or 3 bike rides and maybe some running and maybe some other activities like skiing in the snow.
What is your guilty pleasure?
I actually have a few big macs during the year. I’m not the skinniest rider of the pack and not too good on the nutrition side so maybe my guilty pleasure is across the whole season. This month I will try not to have too many guilty pleasures because it makes training a lot harder!
Alexander Kristoff’s results for 2019:
1st, Overall Tour of Norway with Points classification and stage 5
1st, Grand Prix of Aargau Canton
1st, Stage 1 Tour of Oman
1st, Stage 1a Okolo Slovenska
1st, Stage 2 Deutschland Tour
3rd, Tour of Flanders
4th, UEC European Road Championships
4th, EuroEyes Cyclassics
7th, UCI Road World Championships
7th, London–Surrey Classic
7th, Brussels Cycling Classic.
Fabio Aru has not had the season he would have liked, mostly due to a constriction of the iliac artery which he had angioplasty surgery. This forced him to stop racing for several months missing, amongst other races, the Giro d’Italia. Aru was back training in Sestriere by May and made a comeback in June, finishing the Gran Premio Citta di Lugano, followed by the Tour de Suisse where he finished 21st overall with a 10th place on stage 7. 11th in the Italian National championships was followed by 14th overall in the Tour de France. The Vuelta a España started well with a 5th and an 8th place, but the 2015 Vuelta winner didn’t start stage 13. The team doctors found that there was muscle damage that did not allow him to recover from his efforts. Aru and the team decided that he should abandon to undergo more medical checks.
Aru was in hospital more than once in 2019
Fabio, a tough season for you. The big story was the injury, how relieved were you after a successful surgery?
The surgery was tough it was not just a broken finger. This meant I had to chase the long season. And when you chase you cannot have the perfect timing. This influence my results a lot after the surgery.
What positives and what highlights have there been for you in this season and what you’re taking to next season?
The consciousness that It is important to pay high attention on physical programmes. And it is important to be 100% focussed. This is the most important way to start the journey to improve to top level. I learnt a lot this season and will take all my knowledge to next season.
Vuelta stage 2
A trend what we have seen this season has been younger riders in the pro peloton performing and doing amazing. We saw it in our team but in other teams as well. Why do you think? What is driving this trend?
This happened also to me, when I was 23, I showed immediately important results. This is a sign that cycling has changed. The youngsters when they turned pro, they showed that they are already pre ready to be immediately competitive.
Do you think as a more experience rider there is a role for you to be a mentor for the younger kids coming through? So that they don’t do much too soon.
Yes, for sure even if I am still young. As I explained before I joined the team on. I had to time to understand what is good and what is bad. I help the younger riders now to show a good attitude and to try to avoid making mistakes.
14th in the Tour de France
As a rider how important is it for you to be a role model for the young kids in Italy? In the UAE? To inspire them to want to cycle to want to be the next Mirza? The next Fabio Aru?
It is a pleasure to be a role model for the kids. I achieved good results and I am happy that the kids supporting me. But the most important thing is that we inspire them to cycle and to support this sport.
Next year you will have more chance to inspire more people through your performances. Have you thought about it what your objectives for next season could be?
I don’t know now but the next days will give more insights what my objectives will be for next season.
Starting another season
You are obviously here in the UAE for the next 5 days. I don’t know if you know what the plan is but is there anything specifically you’re looking forward to?
I like this place and I am happy to be here with the team and to explore everything.
You will go to Ferrari World. As an Italian how excited are you to go to Ferrari World?
Yes, very excited it will be my first time and looking forward to it.
Fabio Aru’s results for 2019:
5th, Vuelta a España stage 2
8th, Vuelta a España stage 7
8th, Trofeo Campos, Porreres, Felanitx, Ses Salines.
# Thanks to Catrien Scholten of CSM Sport & Entertainment. #
UAE Team Emirates in UAE