To say Remco Evenepoel has unfinished business at the UAE Tour might be something of an overstatement. But there can be no doubt that in 2023, the world champion will want things to play out very differently to his only previous participation in the Middle East’s highest-ranked bike race.
Back in 2019, Evenepoel turned in an impressive performance at the UAE Tour for a fledgling neo-pro on the opening summit finish of Jebel Hafeet, claiming 15th, only to crash out the following day. Mercifully, he only had minor injuries, but his remarkable leap directly from the junior ranks to the WorldTour meant he was already high-profile enough for his untimely exit to generate much of the day’s column inches.
Four years on, and that abandon is one memory Evenepoel will surely be keen to put behind him for good next Monday when the starting whistle blows on the 2023 UAE Tour at Al Dafra castle.
Another, of course, will be his recent misstep at the Vuelta a San Juan, where an overly enthusiastic attack on the Alto Colorado proved so costly to his hopes of retaining his overall title.
At that point, Evenepoel was still looking to the UAE Tour as a chance to measure himself against Tadej Pogačar, but the Slovenian would later opt to start his season in Spain.
For now, theirs will be a duel by distance. And, after Pogačar’s blistering solo rides in Andalucia this week, there will be considerable interest in what Evenepoel can achieve in his absence on the Jebel Jais and Jebel Hafeet mountain finishes at the UAE Tour.
Pogačar’s absence for the first time since that 2019 edition also leaves something of a power vacuum.
With two outright GC victories and a second place overall in his previous three appearances, as well as four stage wins, Pogačar has long been the key reference point for his ‘home’ race.
His absence means that a stage racing duel between Evenepoel and Pogačar might not take place at all this year, assuming the two stick to their current published schedules and different Grand Tour ambitions.
With Evenepoel heading to the Giro d’italia and Pogačar to the Tour de France, the only races where the two may clash are Liège-Bastogne-Liège and then the World Championships in August. This year’s edition of La Doyenne promises to be even more attractive as a result.
Despite Pogačar’s absence, Evenepoel will still face significant competition and another former overall winner of the UAE Tour next week.
Adam Yates is headlining the UAE Team…
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