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UAE Quietly Building a Grand Tour Dynasty

And their new addition João Almeida just might be the most underrated rider in the peloton

UAE Grand Tour Breakdown: It won’t just be Tadej Pogačar leading the UAE Team Emirates charge on the Grand Tours in 2022. Spencer Martin breaks-down the Emirates plan for further domination with their acquisition of João Almeida.

– This article is an excerpt from the Beyond the Peloton newsletter. Sign up here for full access. –

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Almeida led the 2020 Giro d’Italia

UAE is Quietly Building a Grand Tour Dynasty – And their new addition João Almeida just might be the most underrated rider in the peloton.

The past decade in professional cycling has seen the British superteam Ineos (née Sky) dominate the sport’s three grand tours, with a particular emphasis on the Tour de France, utilizing a mixture of their rote internal structure and massive budget that has allowed them to purchase the world’s best riders to use as workhorses for their supremely skilled and talented leader Chris Froome. However, similar to how the game completely changed when Western Europe descended into the dark ages from the highly structured Roman age, grand tour dominance looks completely different, and significantly more chaotic since the arrival of COVID forced the sport to pause and complete a hard restart in 2020. The new top riders and teams are younger, faster, and race with more aggression and instinct than the generation before them.

A major shift since this restart has been the rise of UAE, formerly a middling team formed from the ashes of the Lampre squad, into the sport’s most dominant Tour de France team, almost exclusively due to the talent of their leader, Tadej Pogačar. However, up to this point, the team’s success has been almost directly correlated to the performance of Pogačar. But, this trend could have drastically changed this past off-season due to the acquisition of 23-year-old João Almeida. This addition means that UAE is now in possession of a rare grand tour talent under the age of 24 that has the unique physical tools to challenge Pogačar, which both means even if the unlikely does happen Pogačar is beaten at the Tour de France in the coming years, there is now a high chance it will be at the hands of a rider within their own team.

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Almeida had to work for Evenepoel in the 2021 Giro

How Did Almeida Land at UAE?
Over the past few weeks, I’ve touched on the fact that the sport’s most dominant team, at least in terms of win and points totals, Deceuninck – Quick-Step, has taken an aggressive approach in the transfer market by allowing some major talents like João Almeida and Sam Bennett to leave while ‘replacing’ them with an extremely young and unproven fleet of talent.

DQS Young Rider Off-Season Additions
Stan Van Tricht-22
Mauro Schmid-21
Ilan van Wilder-21
Ethan Vernon-21
Martin Svrček-18

DQS Stars Leaving &amp: 2021 Win Total
Sam Bennett-7
João Almeida-6

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Sam Bennett had to go

Doubting DQS’s transfer strategy hasn’t been a fruitful exercise in recent years. They have an absurdly long run of off-season success, seem to dump star riders just before they suffer a major performance collapse (i.e. Niki Terpstra & Philippe Gilbert), and are able to turn promising talent into Monument-winning superstars (i.e. Kasper Asgreen). However, I’ve recently floated the possibility that team principal Patrick Lefevere has read a little bit too much of his own positive press and perhaps even given his intra-country rival Alpecin-Fenix a chance to challenge his team by going a bit too far in his strategy of ‘out with the old and in with the young.’

The strategy from inside the team that has baffled me the most in recent years has been their indifference towards the 23-year-old João Almeida. Despite coming out of nowhere to hold the Pink jersey for 14 stages and finish 4th overall at the 2020 Giro d’Italia, the team forced Almeida to wait for Remco Evenepoel, in his grand tour debut and never a serious contender for overall success, at this years’ edition of the race. While post-race analysis would show Almeida was one of, if not THE, strongest rider in the race, yet DQS seemed completely uninterested in retaining one of the sport’s rare GC talents who can both climb and time trial with the best in the world.

DQS’ loss was ultimately UAE’s gain, who jumped at the chance to sign one of the only young riders in the sport with the physical capacity to challenge Tadej Pogačar’s Tour de France dominance.

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João Almeida – Winner in Luxembourg

Is Almeida Better Than We Thought?
While I knew this was a great move by UAE, and confounding one from DQS, at the time, I perhaps didn’t realize just how good Almeida was in 2021.

When we look at the total number of 1st, 2nds, and 3rd placings for every rider in 2021, Almeida comes in 18th place with six wins, along with having seven runner-ups and three third-place finishes. Pretty good for a 23-year-old stage racer whose physical talents and racing style don’t lend themselves to prolific stage or one-day race-winning.

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Primoz Roglič – 2021 top performer

2021 Rider Win Top-20

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When we zoom in at the end-of-season PCS points rankings for each rider, Almeida moves all the way up to 5th place. A truly fantastic result for a rider with a modest career win total.

2021 PCS Points Rider Top-Ten

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However, a recently tweeted graph from the great Twitter account Cycling Statistics (@statsoncycling) put into perspective that Almeida is not only a big talent with a massive potential upside, but is already a force in the peloton.

The Portuguese rider finished second place overall in top ten finishes for the season, only four top-tens behind Tadej Pogačar, who is so good he is currently on track to match the greatest rider in the history of the sport.

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Almeida just behind Pogačar

2021 Top-Ten Leaderboard

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This somewhat secretly great season means that Almeida has an inordinate number of top tens relative to wins. While some might read this as a negative, if I was a team looking for hidden talents, I would attempt to sign riders with extremely low top-ten/win rates since it signals that they are a few adjustments away from being prolific podium finishers.

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Winning Wout

Top-Ten to Win Rate Comparison:
Wout van Aert: 42%
Tadej Pogačar: 33%
João Almeida: 17%

I’m sure this fact hasn’t been lost on UAE, and the upstart team has now been rewarded with having both of the top two top-ten generating riders from the past season. While this would be a great stat no matter what, the most shocking fact about it is that both riders are grand tour GC contenders, not one-day or stage win specialists who might rack up top tens via bunch sprints.

While it still isn’t clear how the team will choose to deploy these two stars over the course of the season, but one thing is for sure: The fact that two of the most versatile and talented GC riders under the age of 24 have landed on the same team should terrify every other team in the WorldTour with any type of Tour de France ambitions over the next decade.

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A great future ahead for João Almeida


# Spencer Martin is the author of the cycling-analysis newsletter Beyond the Peloton that breaks down the nuances of each race and answers big picture questions surrounding team and rider performance. Sign up now to get full access to all the available content and race breakdowns. #

 

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