As Tadej Pogačar this year attempts to become the first rider to do the Giro d’Italia-Tour de France double since Marco Pantani in 1998, his UAE Team Emirates sports manager Joxean Matxin has said that the Slovenian “will do even better than last year”.
The Slovenian will make his Giro d’Italia debut this May, combining the new challenge with what looks set to be a four-way battle with Jonas Vingegaard, Primož Roglič, and Remco Evenepoel in July.
His 2023 campaign saw him take victories at the Tour of Flanders, Il Lombardia, Paris-Nice, La Flèche Wallonne, and Amstel Gold Race as well as finishing second at the Tour de France behind Vingegaard.
Preparation for the Tour was heavily disrupted by a broken wrist suffered at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, however, so Pogačar will hope to avoid similar pitfalls as he tries to do what no rider has in 26 years.
“He will do even better than last year, I am convinced,” Matxin told Spanish sports paper AS. “He is our unique leader for all his merits. We know that he is an absolute guarantee for the Tour, even if this year he will also do the Giro.
“He won’t race so much before going to Italy and he will arrive at the Tour with 31 days of competition. If there was ever a year to test him, it was this year. I think the rivals are more important than the route.”
Pogačar’s limited schedule in the build-up to the two Grand Tours will see him return to Liège in April and take on Strade Bianche and Milan-San Remo in March. His only stage race ahead of the Giro will be the Volta a Catalunya, while he won’t race during the 34 days separating the Giro and Tour.
Matxin said his UAE squad have started 2024 “a little calmer than last year”, with several riders pre-planned to lead the team at each major race through the spring. “Everything is structured,” he said.
“This year we started a little calmer than last because the idea was not to start at full throttle,” said Matxin. “At the Tour Down Under, we had Jay Vine, but the surprise of Isaac del Toro arose. The idea is to have a block for each race and two leaders, in many cases up to three.
“For example, now in Valencia, we will have Pavel Sivakov and Felix Großschartner; in the Algarve, Marc Hirschi and João Almeida; in Oman, Del Toro and Adam Yates; at the UAE Tour, Finn Fisher-Black and Rafał Majka. Everything is structured.
“In the Classics, we expect a lot from Nils Politt, together with other riders who will have to give a little bit more.”
Matxin said that the extensive planning through the spring – similar to Pogačar’s fully mapped-out season plan – will let each rider know their role well in advance so that all can more easily prepare to achieve what is expected of them.
“I reveal the block in advance because it’s clear to me. It will allow us an important tactical variable in the races,” he said.
“The only doubts will arise about possible changes due to crashes or illness. It’s also good for them – they know in advance, [we can plan] the altitude blocks… We have to speak clearly with the riders and tell them what is expected of each of them.”