Adam Yates: UAE Team Emirates' Tour de France team will be a bit of a challenge

British climber discusses the plethora of climbing options at their disposal in France, whilst affirming his own position and reflecting on the best season of his career to date

Clock18:29, Friday 22nd December 2023
Adam Yates celebrates winning stage 1 of the 2023 Tour de France with teammates Tadej Pogačar (left) and Rafał Majka (centre)

© Velo Collection (TDW) / Getty Images

Adam Yates celebrates winning stage 1 of the 2023 Tour de France with teammates Tadej Pogačar (left) and Rafał Majka (centre)

Following Visma-Lease a Bike's tradition of announcing their preliminary Tour de France squad many months in advance, UAE Team Emirates unveiled their eight-man line-up at the squad's December training camp in Altea, Spain, earlier this week. Amongst its number is the third-placed finisher from this year's Tour de France, Adam Yates, who gave his initial reaction to the news in discussion with GCN.

"I think it will be good, I mean I think it will be a bit of a challenge," Yates said. "Last year, we had almost like the perfect team in a way, with the big guys, the medium guys and the climbers. So, next year will be a little bit different with a lot more climbers, but we'll see."

As Yates refers to, UAE Team Emirates' line-up is certainly weighted towards its flotilla of climbing talent, with rouleurs Tim Wellens and Nils Politt joined by no less than six riders whose most favourable terrain is the mountains: Yates, Tadej Pogačar, Pavel Sivakov, Marc Soler, Juan Ayuso and João Almeida.

This goes against the grain of usual Tour de France-winning squads, who compliment their lightweight mountain goats with a handy selection of riders who are at their best when the road does not go uphill.

For example, in Jumbo-Visma's team to support Jonas Vingegaard's winning ride this year, the Dutch squad paired climbers Sepp Kuss and Wilco Kelderman with strong heavyweights such as Dylan van Baarle, Nathan van Hooydonck and Tiesj Benoot. For UAE Team Emirates, a lot will be expected of Wellens and Politt should the team have to control the peloton for days on end, a task that would be wasted on the likes of Sivakov.

In addition, eyebrows were raised at the calibre of those climbers named in support of Pogačar, with Ayuso, Almeida and Sivakov arguably strong enough to warrant Grand Tour leadership at Grand Tour level for many of the other WorldTeams.

This is not a question of what is fair and unfair, but more so a question mark over how UAE Team Emirates will balance the ambitions and expectations of so many would-be contenders. Ayuso and Almeida are both Grand Tour podium finishers, but so too is Yates, and the 31-year-old does not see his role changing as a result of their inclusions.

"Last year was super nice, everyone knew their role," Yates said, acknowledging his position as the team's second-in-command. "So we all had a role, we all had a job and I think for me, my role doesn’t really change.

"So for me, my preparation and what I’ve been told I need to do doesn’t change. So for me, personally, nothing changes. But obviously, we have to deal with different riders and different riding styles for next year, but we’ll see."

Read more: Tadej Pogačar to race Tour de France, Olympics, and Worlds after Giro debut

It is no surprise to hear that Yates will likely be second-in-line at UAE Team Emirates in the Tour de France, after all, the Brit is in many ways the perfect teammate for Pogačar in his conquest to overcome Visma-Lease a Bike's Vingegaard. One of the best climbers in the world in his own right, Yates is a selfless teammate who is as happy to put his team leader first as he is to grasp the opportunities he is afforded with both hands - or legs.

"The team we had last year was pretty much perfect in terms of the atmosphere and the personalities we had in the team. So it was super easy for us to get on," Yates said. "Even on the first stage, the race has barely begun and I've asked for an opportunity to try something, and everyone's agreed and everyone’s happy for me to try something.

"I rewarded them with a stage win and a few days in yellow, when you have that trust with the riders and the staff, you can do something special like this."

Time will tell whether or not UAE Team Emirates are able to capture the same team spirit in 2024 as delivered second and third in Paris this year, but whilst the personnel involved in their mount on yellow will change, there is one thing that remains exactly the same - Yates' unwavering confidence in team leader, Pogačar.

'We back Tadej Pogačar 100 per cent,' Yates says of Giro-Tour double

Next year will see Pogačar attempt to become the first rider since Marco Pantani to win both the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France in the same season, with the Slovenian ready to complete a lap of Italy before turning his attention to defeating reigning champion Vingegaard in France.

Read more:

The decision has seen many conclude that Pogačar's hopes of winning a third Tour de France title have suffered a blow, that if a fit and firing Pogačar can't get the better of the Dane in the Tour, then a Pogačar with Giro fatigue in his legs stands an even slimmer chance. But for Yates, there is no reason to question Pogačar's decision.

"For me, it’s no problem at all, I think if he wants to do that, then let him do it. He’s the best bike rider in the world for a reason, if he knows he can do Giro-Tour and still perform at the highest level, then we back him 100 per cent.

"There’s not many people that can win Flanders, Amstel, Lombardy and then go to the Tour and fight for GC. I don’t think there’s many riders in the history of the sport that can do that, so for me, he has to be the best bike rider in the world."

Read more: Jumbo-Visma still expect Tadej Pogačar to threaten at Tour de France

Where Pogačar fell short of his title bid at the Tour earlier this summer, Yates produced the best Grand Tour ride of his career to clinch the first overall podium of his career. Not only did Yates stand on the podium in Paris, but the man from Bury was able to win stage 1 and spend four days in the yellow jersey, an experience that Yates still struggles to truly put into words.

"As a kid you grow up and look up to the yellow jersey, so the mood is super nice and it was a really nice honour to wear. I also wore it for a few days in the Covid year in 2020, that was also a nice experience, but what can you say? You can’t really say anything can you?"

"It’s super nice and the nicest thing this time was that it was stage 1. It’s so chaotic and so messy, just to get through the stage without having an incident, a crash or something going wrong. Also being up there with Simon [Yates, his brother, who finished second on the day], it was really nice."

Yates happy to see consistency rewarded in 2023

Speaking to GCN from UAE Team Emirates' training camp on the Costa Blanca, Yates is in a noticeably chipper mood and more than happy to offer his time to the press pack who have gathered in the team's hotel. Why so cheery?

"Today, I was strong in training. We'll see tomorrow!" Yates joked.

Perhaps though, a contributing factor is the season that Yates has just enjoyed with his new teammates, having only joined UAE Team Emirates at the beginning of 2023. Hitting the ground running at the UAE Tour and performing with a consistency he has perhaps lacked in the past, has it been his best season to date?

"I think so," he answered. "My actual level has not gone that much higher, but it’s just that I’ve been really consistent throughout the year, which I've struggled with in the past. So for me, it's been a nice change not being sick and not being injured at key moments of the year, and that’s made a big difference this year."

The past few seasons for the Brit are perhaps indicative of the importance of fate being on a rider's side. For all the analysis of performances, watts per kilo and tactics, cycling is often a sport that comes down to chance.

After making a name for himself at GreenEdge as a youngster, Yates transferred to Ineos Grenadiers in 2021 and flourished, winning the Volta a Catalunya and finishing on the podium of Il Lombardia to round out the campaign.

But in his second and final season with Ineos, Yates suffered setback after setback, which came to a head with a bout of Covid just prior to the Tour de France. A reasonable ninth-place finish followed, but this year's podium finish at the Tour demonstrated the rider's true worth.

Per Yates' own conclusion, "nothing went wrong" for the Brit this season, offering him the opportunity to demonstrate his craft. Away from the Tour, Yates won the Tour de Romandie - adding to his burgeoning collection of stage race victories - finished second at the Critérium du Dauphiné and won the GP Montréal during a rich vein of late-season form.

A Grand Tour win is possible

Now 31 years of age, Yates is undoubtedly one of the best stage racers in the world and capable of picking off the odd big one-day victory, but the question remains: can he win a Grand Tour?

"With the level I have shown this year, it's possible," said Yates. But it's one thing saying it and one thing doing it. I know I have the level to do it, but it’s the circumstances, the parcours, how you ride as a team - all these little things make a big difference."

Cycling is a different sport from when Yates first burst onto the scene with a fourth-place finish at the 2016 Tour de France, indeed, it is vastly different from when Yates' brother Simon won the Vuelta a España in 2018. At 31, Yates is no fool and understands that the next few years will be make or break for his chances of winning a three-week stage race.

"Now these last few years all these young guys come straight from juniors and start winning, because they have a full nutrition plan and altitude camps when they’re 15 years old. My upbringing was a little bit different, I did my first altitude camp when I was second-year pro, and these guys are doing it when they’re juniors!

"I’m getting better every year, I just hope that next year I can go again one step higher and then the results hopefully will come."

Alongside the Tour de France and the Olympic Games, Yates may target the Vuelta a España in 2024, a race which could offer the 31-year-old an opportunity to be the outright leader for UAE Team Emirates.

Read more: Adam Yates, Vine, Sivakov, Almeida all eye up Vuelta a España as UAE Team Emirates place Grand Tour pawns

After having put tens of riders to the sword at this year's Tour, few could argue that Yates has what it takes to chase his own GC ambitions. But as grounded as ever, the former yellow jersey wearer is not a man to boast his own confidence. Instead, he likes to reserve his talking for out on the road and hopes that 2024 will afford him the same opportunity to do so.

"Hopefully next year, I have no bad luck. I don’t want no bad luck or good luck, I just want to be in the middle and neutral!"

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