In last year's event, Pogačar really had to hold on to the Jumbo-Visma train and do everything himself as his team-mates weren't really around to support him in the high mountains.
However, that should change for the 108th edition of the Tour with the team getting busy in the transfer market for this season, bringing in the likes of former Tour king of the mountains winner, Rafał Majka, among others.
Pogačar has had, once again, an exceptional season where he has been winning for fun. He started off the year with a win at the UAE Tour before winning Tirreno-Adriatico. He missed out in the Basque Country simply because of odd team tactics but came back to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège, his first Monument.
After that we had quite a wait to see him race again but, unlike fellow Slovenian and Tour runner up Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), Pogačar did choose to race before the Tour with the Tour of Slovenia, which he won comfortably. He then managed third and fifth in the National Championships before a brief rest to then launch into the Tour itself.
Pogačar said : “It’s a privilege to be back to the Tour as the defending champion.It’s been a tough year for a lot of people and we hope we can give everyone 3 weeks of exciting racing.
"My year so far has gone really well and I’m really looking forward to starting this Tour with good preparation and good condition. I am confident in myself and my team, we can’t wait for the challenge.”
Majka does indeed join Pogačar as one of the main domestiques for the defending champion, but the rest of the line-up is very strong too.
Majka hasn't been his old self, he doesn't look to be in peak climbing form, but he looks more than good enough to support his leader. The Polish rider's best results in 2021 so far have been while supporting Pogačar at the Tour of Slovenia where he took two top-10s and fourth overall.
Star of the Tour in 2020 and big signing for UAE Team Emirates, Marc Hirschi has made it to the Tour team despite not showing that he's anywhere close to his form of last year.
Hirschi's form, to his credit, has looked to be slowly improving, but eight top-10s won't be making his team bosses happy that they splashed out the funds and broke his Team DSM contract.
He did start to look strong at the Tour de Suisse before finishing just behind Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) in the Swiss time trial championships and eighth in the road race a few days later, so maybe he will be back to top shape just in time.
Young American talent, Brandon McNulty has shown that he has stepped up a level in 2021 with some very impressive rides. Managing fourth place at the time trial in Paris-Nice and the Volta a Catalunya before leading the Tour of the Basque Country for much of the race.
He then managed a couple of top-10s, sprinting to third just behind Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Victorious) on one of the stages.
Former world champion Rui Costa is the next on the list. The Portuguese star looks to also be coming into top form just in time for the big race after getting some great results at the Tour de Suisse. Although, he did have a stage win taken away from him and given to Lotto-Soudal's Andreas Kron in that race due to a dangerous deviation in his sprint.
Former Italian champion and Grand Tour stage winner, Davide Formolo was often the last man for Pogačar in 2020 but will be hoping that there are a few more men around his leader into the closing stages. Formolo didn't exactly impress with his efforts last year and has ben very quiet this year, maybe now is his moment to shine.
He did ride the Giro d'Italia but lost a huge amount of time, along with Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation), on stage 11 on the gravel roads of Tuscany. However, he did manage to finish 15th overall, only dropping out of the top 50 on the stage once throughout all 21 days.
Mikkel Bjerg is yet another big talent to come out of Denmark, he joins a growing list of stars in the WorldTour, but this is his Tour debut and he will likely be a vital cog in the wheel for Pogačar on the flatter stages where the defending champion did lose over a minute in the cross winds last year.
Bjerg is most known for his time trialing ability, but has also managed some top finishes from breakaways, taking two third places in last year's Giro. He just missed out on the Danish time trial championships to Tour of Flanders winner, Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) in the recent nationals.
Finally, the Norwegian powerhouse that is Vegard Stake Laengen. The 32-year-old is another solid rider for the flat but also, Laengen can climb exceptionally well for a 79kg rider.
He has only had one stand out performance so far in 2021 with a second place at Trofeo Andratx in Malloca, but he plays a more needed team role than taking the wins.
UAE team manager Joxean Matxin Fernandez said : “Our aim for this year is clear: we are going to try and defend the title which Tadej claimed last year, so we have built a team around him. We have a good mix of youth and experience to support Tadej with a strong block of climbers and also solid riders for the flat roads.
"Obviously we’ll be heavily marked by the other teams and it’s not going to be an easy task, but we are confident and know that a big result is well within the capabilities of Tadej and the team.”
The Tour de France 2021 will begin in the city of Brest in the Brittany region of France on June 26 before winding its way around France with a small dip into Andorra to then finish on the Champs Élysées in Paris three weeks later.
UAE Team Emirates squad for the Tour de France 2021
Tadej Pogačar (Slo)
Rafał Majka (Pol)
Marc Hirschi (Sui)
Rui Costa (Por)
Brandon McNulty (USA)
Davide Formolo (Ita)
Mikkel Bjerg (Den)
Vegard Stake Laengen (Nor)
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