Pogacar's army is ready for battle: Who can beat Yates, Almeida, and Ayuso in the Tour de France? Cycling

Pogacar's army is ready for battle: Who can beat Yates, Almeida, and Ayuso in the Tour de France?

Pogacar's army is ready for battle: Who can beat Yates, Almeida, and Ayuso in the Tour de France?

Terrifyingly strong. Outrageously good. Once again, in the Tour of Switzerland, the dominance of UAE Team Emirates was relentless. The team, fully committed to helping their leader Tadej Pogacar win both the Giro and the Tour this summer, controlled the prestigious stage race with an iron fist.

The last four stages saw UEA's Adam Yates and Joao Almeida alternating as winner and runner-up. It's worth pausing to reflect on this, especially because it wasn’t Pogacar who was pulverizing the competition this time. It's a testament to the team's meticulous preparation for the 2024 season. The roles of Yates and Almeida in the master plan for the Tour have been perfected to the last detail.

Back to the factsfor a moment. UAE Team Emirates’ selection is frequently touted as the strongest Tour team ever. A star ensemble to drool over. At this point, nothing could be truer. Pogacar’s role needs no explanation. He is the king of UAE, the undisputed leader of the team clad in white. The thought that his intended helpers—Yates, Almeida, and the third super domestique Juan Ayuso, who was absent in Switzerland—all have stood on the podium of a Grand Tour is staggering. Any other team would have them as leaders. And all three seem just as willing to help Pogacar achieve the legendary Giro-Tour double.

Back to Yates and Almeida. The two general classification riders decimated the competition in Switzerland. The field there was about as strong as it was in the Tour of Catalonia. There, we were astounded by Pogacar’s dominance, as he outclassed the rest with four stage wins. Well, the advantage held by Yates, and to a slightly lesser extent Almeida, was nearly as large in Switzerland. Their supremacy might have been even more astonishing than their Slovenian teammate’s dominance in Spain. And perhaps even more alarming for the competition in the general classification. Next to Pogacar, Yates and Almeida are also in the form of their lives.

Adam Yates: Pogacar's right-hand man who thrives in a supportive role in the shadows

The role Yates has played since the summer of 2023 has been a breath of fresh air for the Brit. He was already among the top five in the 2016 Tour but since then has been swallowed up by a sea of high expectations. At Orica-Greenedge, he and his twin brother were the hopes for a podium finish. While Simon met expectations with a Vuelta victory and a podium in the Giro, Adam often struggled through the first mountain stages of a Grand Tour. Disillusioned and unable to handle the pressure, a burden many potential GC contenders bear. Even at INEOS Grenadiers, there was hope that Yates could manage a top finish in 2022. Here too, that hope ended in disappointment.

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Pogacar's army: Yates, Almeida, and Ayuso ready for Tour de France with strong UAE team management

Yates had enough and moved to UAE. There, he excelled in 2023 as Pogacar's final lieutenant. It was a role that suited him perfectly: without the pressure, he aided his leader and climbed his way to a top finish. Yates stood beaming on the final podium in Paris, flanked by Pogacar and Jonas Vingegaard, the two giants of stage racing. At UAE, they give Yates exactly what he needs—a free role in week-long races like the Tour of Switzerland, where he often competes for the overall win without much pressure. And a spot in the Tour selection as a super domestique, which also offers him a great chance at a top-five finish. This is the recipe for a motivated Adam Yates.

Joao Almeida: the stubborn Portuguese edges towards the top and will embrace a starring role as a domestique in the Tour

Joao Almeida, on several occasions, seemed perhaps even stronger than his companion Yates in Switzerland. The Portuguese won two stages. Almeida's situation is not the same as Yates'. At his old team, Soudal Quick-Step, he had conflicts with Remco Evenepoel over leadership in the Giro. The time trial specialist is ambitious and seeks personal success. And that's precisely why UAE doesn't overlook his ego. Almeida will debut in the Tour and has no choice but to accept a role as Pogacar’s domestique. As a thank you and a sweetener, Almeida gets to race the Vuelta. Like with Yates, this is a clever bit of expectation management by Mauro Gianetti and co.

At the same time, Almeida must realize that he has no choice but to embrace this reality. He hovers near the top, but he still hasn't quite managed to join the very best grand tour riders. The 2023 Giro exemplified this. When it really mattered, Thomas and Primoz Roglic were just a bit better. Too often, Almeida still has to grind and cling on. Surviving on his tenacity and hoping for a podium by fighting and pushing. Yet, inflicting pain on the rest is still beyond him. A podium in the Giro or the Vuelta is one thing, but the Tour is a different beast altogether—a difference that, deep down, the proud Portuguese must also (reluctantly) acknowledge.

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joao almeida

Juan Ayuso: The Spanish crown prince eager to learn from Pogacar in the Tour

As if the climbing contingent wasn't formidable enough, Juan Ayuso will also be making his presence felt in France. Fortunately for Pogacar, everything there will be a new experience for Ayuso. The Spaniard is the crown prince within UAE and a peer of the Slovenian powerhouse. Ayuso was even a year younger than Pogacar when he secured third place in the 2022 Vuelta—a feat unprecedented for a teenager at the time. In a few years, he might just match the Giro winner in prowess. Now is the time for this prodigy to serve Pogacar, still without the illusion of final victory in mind. Ayuso, along with his compatriots, will align with the lofty goal: securing the Giro-Tour double for Pogi. The question for Yates, Ayuso, and Almeida will largely be about who remains alongside their leader when it truly comes down to delivering blows in the mountains.

The Tour of Switzerland has shown us that the men in white are primed to make their mark in the Tour. This achievement is underpinned by a strong team management. They make Yates, Ayuso, and Almeida feel sufficiently important at UAE. The team grants these three stars ample opportunities to shine and keep them satisfied, all while Pogacar’s role remains unchallenged. The three super domestiques understand their place, might even receive the Vuelta as an end-of-season treat, and continue to rack up victories elsewhere. Impressive management by the Emirati team, in a year where they have already claimed more than forty victories. The end of this remarkable streak seems far from over. And that should start worrying the other top teams in the Tour.

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