Team Emirates’ Pogacar (right) celebrates on the podium of Vuelta a Espana in Madrid on Sunday.
History was made for the UAE on Sunday as 20-year-old Tadej Pogacar stepped onto the Vuelta a Espana podium and proudly displayed the country’s flag on his jersey as he celebrated a landmark third place finish at one of the biggest bike races in the world.
As he raised his hands in triumph, he became the first rider in UAE colours to ever grace the podium steps in a Grand Tour.
Pogacar’s remarkable performance during the 21-day Tour of Spain will also be remembered for his three spectacular stage wins, along with his winning of the coveted white jersey, which is given to the best young rider in the race.
His achievements marked the first Grand Tour podium for UAE Team Emirates since its inception in 2017 and took the team’s tally of Grand Tour stage victories to eight. Four of these have been won at La Vuelta, two at the Giro d’Italia and two at the Tour de France.
On finishing La Vuelta Pogacar said: “These last three weeks have been incredible. The whole of UAE Team Emirates has supported me really well to get to this point and I owe a lot of thanks to them.
“To finish on the podium in the Vuelta is unbelievable and to be able to do it next to the World Champion and Primoz Roglic is even more amazing. A lot of friends and family have come from home to see me in Madrid so for me this day was the perfect end to an amazing three weeks for me and for the team.
Matar Suhail Al Yabhouni Al Dhaheri, President of UAE Team Emirates praised the team: “Today was a very special day. It is the culmination of a lot of hard work and self-belief. Since we started the team – with amazing support from the UAE and our sponsors – it has been our goal to become the best team in professional cycling.
“Today we took another very big step towards that goal and I am immensely proud of what we have achieved.
He continued: Tadej Pogacar has been a revelation for us. As we look to the future it is important to invest in young riders that can not only win races, but can inspire young people in the UAE to get behind the team and get into cycling themselves. That is our goal. ”
Mauro Gianetti, UAE Team Emirates’ CEO added: “Pogacar is an unbelievable talent and has proved he is a superstar in the making, but we must not forget that cycling is a team sport. We could not have achieved these victories without the commitment and contribution of all the riders, sports directors, backroom staff, family members and friends that have supported the team all season.”
The Emirati formation, which is named after its two co-title sponsors – the UAE and Emirates airlines – has now established itself as one of the most formidable teams on the WorldTour with 26 wins under its belt already this season.
In addition to the one day wins, stage successes and GC glory, UAE Team Emirates was also able to hold onto the pink ‘Maglia Rosa’ leaders jersey for 10 days during the first Grand Tour of the season – the Giro d’Italia.
Meanwhile, Taciturn Primoz Roglic was overlooked by his team for the Tour de France but he had the last word when avoiding any final day mishap on the Vuelta a Espana’s ceremonial ride into Madrid on Sunday to become the first Slovenian to win one of cycling’s three Grand Tours.
The former ski jump champion had assured victory on Saturday, only having to complete the 21st stage for the biggest success of his career.
Veteran Spaniard Alejandro Valverde was second overall, 2min 16sec behind, with Roglic’s compatriot Pogacar in third, a further 22sec away.
The three-week race concluded in a sprint on the Paseo del Prado in the heart of the Spanish capital won by Fabio Jakobsen.
Roglic crossed the line arm in arm with his team-mates, climbing the podium draped in his national flag, his habitual implacable features replaced by a broad grin.
“I don’t have much to say,” the man who prefers to let his legs rather than his mouth do the talking confessed to the crowd at the Plaza de Cibeles.
“Thanks to my family for their support and thanks to all the people connected with this huge achievement.
“See you at other races.”
Fourth in last year’s Tour de France and third in this year’s Giro d’Italia, Roglic had lined up as one of the favourites to succeed absent defending champion Simon Yates and he did not disappoint.
A member of Slovenia’s 2007 junior world ski jump champion team had seized control of the overall standings by pulverising his rivals on the individual time-trial in stage 10.
Surrounded by a powerful Jumbo team, Roglic then systematically demoralised pretenders on the mountains, proving unshakeable in the climbing stages.
Few victories come without a major scare and Roglic received one when arch rival Nairo Quintana escaped in a crosswind last Tuesday and came close to grabbing the lead.
But he survived and lined up for the traditional last day victory parade with a lead of over two and a half minutes from Valverde.
In a tweet published briefly before the scheduled start time, the organisers stated, “There will be no intermediate sprints, no points, no stage winner. The riders will do 8 laps around the circuit for the fans. GC stays the same as yesterday.”
UAE Team Emirates and Tadej Pogacar have put pen to paper on one of the longest contracts in the history of professional cycling, with the 22-year-old set to stay with the Emirati outfit through to 2027.
Last September, a relatively unknown rider, from a relatively unsung team, stepped up onto the top spot of the Tour de France podium to claim overall victory, in what has since been heralded as one of the most dramatic bike races in history.
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