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: It’s going to be a new scenario for me. I moved to UAE Team Emirates in order to benefit from the freedom of targeting my personal goals. I have not been on the Tour since 2011, so I really can’t wait for the moment we start the Grande Boucle.
Q: How do you feel your own personal form is coming into this and that of the team
A: My approach to the Tour in the past two months was perfect, after that – in March and April – I had some problems with little injuries. I trained well in altitude with the team at Passo San Pellegrino and I could appreciate the results of the work done in the Criterium Dauphiné, when I was very close to a win at the Alpe d’Huez, which normally is not an arrival which is suitable for my cycling skills.
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: The team performed an impressive Giro d’Italia, my team mates deserved more than one stage victory and the good result of Polanc in the GC. They demonstrated that our team can be competitive in each stage of a Grand Tour and we’ll try to be as competitive in the Tour as the team was in the Giro.
Q: Do you feel the performances and the bond between the team/riders has got stronger the longer the season has progressed
A: I joined the team this season and being part of such a great project, backed by big sponsors and by the passion of a whole Nation, is something special. We all feel extra motivations and race after race we are becoming more and more aware of the importance of representing the UAE.
Q: You came to the UAE team after an injury interrupted time at Sky. How do you feel your First half of the season has gone
A: I haven’t won this season and this is something I’m sorry about, especially because I would have liked to share the joy of a success with my new team and the sponsors, however I feel that the result on the Alpe d’Huez was pretty good. I had an unlucky period in March and April, with illness and injury, however I always managed, with the support of the team staff, to go on training and to follow the best possible path towards the Tour de France, which is my main appointment in the season.
Q: Louis will be the main rider and hope for the overall GC, but do you think you can challenge. What will be your overall focus
A: I will hunt for stage victories, maybe not the one suitable for massive sprints, but those who could be a little bit more selective.
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