In the second of the season’s three Grand Tour races, UAE Team Emirates will rightly have high hopes having enjoyed an impressive outing at the Giro d’Italia earlier in the year.
Jan Polanc claimed 11th place in the overall General Classification in the Italian mountains, with the Slovenian also winning Stage 4, while there were numerous top 10 and stage podium places – including three second places for Portugal’s Rui Costa.
Hopes will be especially high with South African pocket rocket Louis Meintjes leading their charge for possible GC glory following an impressive eighth-placed finish overall last year.
The 25-year-old is also the favourite for the young riders’ white jersey having claimed second place behind Orica-Scott’s Adam Yates in 2016. It will be his last chance to win the battle for the maillot blanc (awarded to riders aged 25 or under in the current year).
Among the UAE’s talented nine-strong contingent, Italy’s Diego Ulissi and Britain’s Ben Swift will also be targeting stage wins as well as riding in support of Meintjes.
Here Sport360 talks to the trio about their form and hopes coming into Le Tour.
Q: What are your hopes going into the tour?
A: I’m confident of having a good performance on the Tour. It will be important to avoid problems in the early part of the race and to be ready to be strong on the mountains.
Q: Do you think you can challenge for the overall GC win and if so, who do you think will be your main rivals?
A: The victory in the GC of the Tour de France is the most difficult goal in the cycling world. There are so many top riders battling for it such as: Froome, Chaves, Porte, Quintana and Contador, so I feel it will be very difficult so it’s not a target in my mind. I just want to improve the 8th place I obtained last year.
Q: You had a very good overall finish in the GC last year and the TdF has been your main focus. Do you feel pressure to perform or is that challenge something you relish
A: I have no pressure. I have a strong will to improve the 8th place I obtained last year. It was a good result, but I feel I can do even better. However, I’m aware that it will be a difficult task.
Q: If not the overall, what is the goal?
A: Improving the result of the past year and trying to compete for the white jersey as best young rider of the race.
Q: How do you feel your own personal form is coming into this and that of the team?
A: My personal form is good and the recent performances in the Criterium du Dauphiné gave me good feedback about the training I performed with my team mates in altitude at Passo San Pellegrino. I trained there with almost the whole line-up of our team for the Tour and I feel the form of my team mates is good. This will give us the opportunity to be competitive on the Tour.
Q: The first Grand Tour of the season in Italy was very positive and the team had some very good results in the stages, with Jan Polanc finishing well in the GC and Rui getting a few stage podiums. Does this give you confidence heading into TdF that you can do well again or even better?
A: Rui was unlucky in obtaining three second places in the Giro d’Italia, however he raced impressively – it’s not easy to always be in the heat of the race and to be close to the victory. Polanc managed to win a stage and he demonstrated that he could be a top 10 contender in the GC of a Grand Tour. Their performances gave us good morale and they showed that the training programs by the team’s staff for performance are good.
Q: Do you feel the performances and the bond between the team/riders has got stronger the longer the season has progressed?
A: The core of the roster is the one already existing from the team of Giuseppe Saronni and in the past season I had the opportunity to appreciate the great group spirit. This year we’re obtaining good results and of course this helps to make the bonds even stronger between the teammates.
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