The Sons of Mauro Gianetti look unfreakingbelievably loaded this year. Is that all there is to talk about? Not so fast...
1. What does Pogačar’s career stand for now?
Look, there is no point in talking about whether Tadej Pogačar will win the Tour. To me, what will be interesting this season is, whatever he does, what will it mean for cycling going forward? Huh? OK, stay with me here. Let’s say he does the robust spring classics campaign he aims to do, and then wins the Tour. Does that mean the top Tour guys are all free to race wherever they want? Or if he loses the Tour, is that a watershed moment for all-round cycling, in a bad way? Just when we were thinking about our heroes broadening their horizons, now they have to think twice about it?
Pogs will be under serious pressure again from Jonas Vingegaard, who is part of this same conversation because he aims to do about as Tour-centered a program as you can have, leading into July. If it works... I dunno, maybe it changes stuff. Maybe we are back to the bad old days of hyper-specialization. Or maybe we just recognize that Vingegaard is a special talent in three-week races and Pogs is just a different guy. Probably we overreact and insist on Tour contenders racing no more than five days before July. Also they shouldn’t eat, well, anything.
2. Is Jay Vine the signing of the winter?
Sweet luv-a-Christ... what’s gotten into Vine?!? There’s a temptation to see him as having hopped off his Zwift and straight into a breakaway at the Vuelta... which isn’t quite how his career has gone, although it’s not that far off — he rose to prominence through the Zwift Academy in 2020 and got a contract, but then he won the 2022 esports world title too, and not long after that... was in a breakaway at the Vuelta. Anyway, he’s 27, so he’s both a late bloomer and a fast riser. He did crash out of that race late, taking a KOM title off the table, but he’d already finished the Vuelta in 2021, got second in the Tour of Norway, and then won two stages in Spain, while becoming a daily protagonist in the mountains. That buzz got him a contract with UAE, and he’s already added an Aussie Nats ITT title to his resume.
So is this the best move any big team has made from the most recent transfer season? For the big-time Tour contenders, I think so. INEOS brought in Thymen Arensman (wait, did I not mention him last week?) and Jumbo added Wilco Kelderman, who might be a steadier veteran version of Vine. Jumbo getting Dylan van Baarle is pretty huge too, but avoiding the apples to oranges stuff, I will say that Vine and EF bringing on Richard Carapaz are probably the two moves that make me really like their teams’ chances in the Tour, with Arensman maybe an even bigger signing eventually, though not this year. That’s called moving the needle.
3. Are they the best team in the world?
Well well... now we’re getting down to it. Let’s start with past performance. They were fourth overall in the recent UCI rankings (for relegation purposes) which covered three seasons — Jumbo were #1 there. Just last season CQ had UAE ranked third, about 500 points behind the nearly-tied INEOS and Jumbo. Quick Step led in wins, one ahead of UAE and INEOS. Under the (vastly superior) Podium Cafe/FSA DS points scoring system, UAE went from fifth in 2019 to third for a couple years to first overall in 2022. Every system has them moving up into the top tier.
If you look at the top three (not including Soudal Quick Step, who are still excellent but not as deep as Jumbo or INEOS), I will say that UAE are the best team in two disciplines — grand tours and other climby stuff — but are so far off in the cobbles and flatter classics that I don’t think I can predict that they are #1 this year. If Pogačar goes crazy in spring, maybe he alone can keep them in the ballpark. I do think their Tour de France team will be incredible at some point. We already saw what Pogs can do with Brandon McNulty. Add in João Almeida, Majka and Adam Yates for sure, and maybe Vine and/or Ayuso at some point, and this is just a stacked team. Their classics chances come down to Pogs again, plus Marc Hirschi (who is really just getting started), and vets like Ulissi, Trentin, and Tim Wellens, and you have them flexing their muscles all over the place. It’s kind of mind-blowing how loaded they are. In some races. But not all of them.
4. I’m Captain Now
Lordy... Pogačar’s hunger for wins is something, but on a team with so many budding stars, is there enough for everyone to eat? Nothing about Pogs’ demeanor suggests that he’s the next Hinault, willing to frustrate his own teammates’ ambitions if he has some message he thinks he needs to send. No, I expect that when Almeida, Ayuso, McNulty, or Yates is primed to win a race where Pogačar is around, they will get their shots. Or this whole juggernaut thing won’t last long.
Having too many leaders on a single team has long been an issue in cycling, possibly for as long as it’s been a team sport, but one way to relax things a bit is to have a super-awesome #1 guy who everybody respects, and if that’s not how they talk about Pogačar behind his back, they need to get real. My expectation is that this season will play out perfectly calmly, as everyone approaches the new arrangement with some patience — particularly McNulty and Ayuso, who know that they have so, so much time ahead of them and room to improve. Almeida is pretty young too, and Yates probably knows by now what his ceiling is. Whether anyone has patience for this system still in 2024 is another matter. But I think the guys buy in this year, however crowded the quarter-deck may seem.
5. Kit History Review and Poll!
Not a ton to work with from the UAE years, which have featured largely the same colors and logo, but before that they were a... shall we say, colorful squad? So let’s dive in.
2023: black sleeves I guess?
If you can spot the differences here vs below...
2022: ooh! red armpits!
2020-21 alternate kits:
Hm, kind of flashy.
Ooh, very tasteful, not to mention ideal on a hot day. All outstanding choices.
2020: Moar Flag, less black
The UAE flag has since been reduced to subtle paint swatches from this early version featuring it more prominently, in case you still didn’t believe that Lampre moved to the Arabian Peninsula. The white shoulders lighten things up a bit too, compared to almost every other UAE jersey.
Initial 2017-18 version: Emirates! Emirates! Emirates!
Because back then you really needed to know who paid the bills.
The Lampre Years... Here are the highlights. The last Lampre:
The lime green accents remind me of Izod shirts and whale belts from the 80s. Not the best memories.
2013: Pinkest pink!
2010 Classic Lampre
Hard to hate. A slightly swishy version of the original (below)
2005: Gibo Time!
Once your eyes have adjusted to all the pink, this one seems rather unexciting. I want my pink dopamine hit!
2004: How can we ever forget?
The original. Rider and uniform.
Unfortunately polls are very strict and do not allow you to check all the boxes you like. You have to pick one, even if that means choosing between a UAE version you like and a Lampre one you remember fondly. Elaboration welcomed in comments. I will definitely be choosing from the Lampre selection, not so much out of nostalgia as boredom with UAE’s steady stream of dull offerings.
The best UAE or Lampre kit is...
This poll is closed
2023: Black sleeves
2022: red armpits
2020-21 alternate Tour de France kits
2020: Whiter, flaggier
2018: Emirates Emirates Emirates!
Late limey Lampre
2013: Pinkiest Lampre
2010: Classic swishy Lampre
2005: Blue Lampre
2004: the Original