In case you missed it: my last post introduced my new team preview series, in which I take a look at each of the men’s World Tour teams (and a select few Pro teams), their performance in 2021, their comings and goings, and their goals for 2022. Because let’s face it: we all need something to do while we count down to road season, don’t we? Check out Chapter 1 featuring INEOS Grenadiers and Team Jumbo Visma if you haven’t already.
Today’s it’s the turn of two of the biggest success stories of 2021: the most successful team, and the team containing the most successful individual rider: Quick-Step and UAE Team Emirates. It’s fair to say these two teams take two very different approaches to racing and with both set to stick to their guns and continue doing what works in the coming season, let’s break down just what it is that makes each of these cycling superpowers so good at what they do.
Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl
The team formerly known as Deceuninck, who have ditched the windows sponsor and doubled down on the flooring, will aim to begin 2022 in a similar vein to 2021. Not only did they boast the most wins of any team, they also proved their reputation for espousing the trusty adage ‘teamwork makes the dreamwork,’ with the widest spread of victories amongst their collective of riders of any team. Everyone gets a fair bite at the cherry at Quick-Step; it’s a tried and tested method that really came into its own in 2021. Unless of course, you didn’t see eye-to-eye with the top brass.
Ins and Outs
The team have incurred a few losses to their ranks, the most significant being Irish sprint sensation Sam Bennett, off to BORA-Hansgrohe with Shane Archbold following a long-running and egregious war of words with owner Patrick Lefevre. João Almeida also preferred to try his luck elsewhere, heading to UAE Team Emirates.
Despite this though, the Wolfpack retain their core personnel and continue adding young talent, snapping up the likes of unsettled Belgian Ilan van Wilder from Team DSM, British track talent Ethan Vernon and Giro 2021 stage winner Mauro Schmid.
Where do you begin? Literally at the very beginning: Davide Ballerini took the first two stages and the overall at the Tour de la Provence in early February, followed by surging to victory on opening weekend at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. The team’s success continued apace after that: Kasper Asgreen’s last gasp victory at the Tour of Flanders, Mark Cavendish’s fairytale, Merckx-equalling four stages at the Tour de France and Julian Alaphillippe’s perfectly timed, brilliant solo attack to defend the rainbow stripes in Leuven were arguably the team’s crowning achievements, but they only told part of the story. A total of nine Grand Tour stages, one-day victories at Brugge-de-Panne, E3 and Fleche Wallonie, plus a clutch of wins at stage races in Poland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Denmark… the list goes on.
It’s probably quicker to outline what Quick-Step WON’T be targeting in 2022, because with their strength in depth they will be going all out to ensure they top the UCI World Tour Team rankings for the fifth year in six. Historically, the Belgian outfit tend to avoid GC battles, so take the Grand Tours out of the mix, and what’s left are the team’s main goals… Right?
Well, not exactly. Aside from the fact you can never quite rule out Julian Alaphillippe having a crack at the Tour, should the wind be blowing the right way, Quick-Step will this year send Remco Evenepoel to La Vuelta a España, for arguably the team’s best chance at a Grand Tour GC since Alaphillippe in 2019.
So, are they doing a reverse-INEOS, and diversifying away from concentrating solely on the classics to focus on Grand Tour domination? Perhaps not entirely. The Belgian team have always focused on their sprinting, and last year at the Tour de France was no exception. The wins, however, came from a different source than expected. This year, their number one sprinter is likely to be Fabio Jakobsen, who will face off against one of the strongest sprinting fields in a good few years in the hunt for stage wins. Kasper Asgreen will have designs on the yellow jersey too, one of a number of time trial specialists going for the win on the opening day test against the clock. The location, in his home country of Denmark, makes the goal even more appealing for Asgreen.
Of course it’s inevitable that the main goal for Quick-Step will be one day classics, but with INEOS looking more closely at the classics, Jumbo Visma strengthening their one-day squad and Tadej Pogačar aiming at four of the five monuments, they cannot expect to have things all their own way in 2022.
There’s no ‘I’ in Wolfpack, and the Belgian team have thrived on their trademark ‘sharing is caring’ approach. That by no means precludes them from having a few aces in the pack though, and when you have the World Champion in your team, it’s not a bad start. Julian Alaphillippe will have his sights set on defending the rainbow bands and will undoubtedly have the likes of Liège–Bastogne–Liège and a stage or two at the Tour on his agenda.
Remco Evenepoel is targeting La Vuelta, and following his ill-advised tilt at the Giro d’Italia, his first race back after his lengthy recovery from the Il Lombardia horror crash, the 2022 Vuelta is undoubtedly a better prospect for the young superstar.
Fabio Jakobsen will be the team’s top sprinter following the departure of Sam Bennett, with Mark Cavendish likely to play more of a background role this season.
It’s a case of ‘as you were’ for Quick-Step, who go into the new season as strong as ever and with a range of achievable goals for a team with many cards to play.
UAE Team Emirates
By contrast to the wide spread of winners at Quick-Step, UAE Team Emirates quite clearly placed all their proverbial eggs in one Slovenian basket in 2021. When you have arguably the most valuable rider in the peloton, that’s fair enough, right?
Ins and Outs
Arguably the main downfall of Pogačar’s back-up squad in 2021 was the lack of strength in depth; when the going got tough, Pog quite often had to get going… by himself. When you’re Tadej Pogačar it’s not a huge issue but the team management have used their not inconsiderable wealth to add to the squad, strengthening Pogačar’s security detail in the mountains with the likes of George Bennett from Jumbo Visma and Marc Soler from Movistar and upgrading luxury domestiques, with David de la Cruz out and João Almeida in. The ex-Quick-Step man is likely to play a support role for Pog at La Vuelta in exchange for his own shot at leadership.
They’ve done a straight sprinter swap, trading Alexander Kristoff in for a younger model in the shape of Pascal Ackermann, and arguably their most significant acquisition is Spanish wunderkind Juan Ayuso, who will ride his first full year at world tour level with great expectations on his young shoulders.
It was a stellar year for Tadej Pogačar, and his team basked in the reflected glory. It started out on home turf, with the overall victory at the UAE Tour in February – would anything less have been accepted? Probably not, but it set a precedent for the rest of the year, and one which he was confidently able to follow through on.
The tuft-haired prince of Slovenia won in Tirreno-Adriatico and Liège–Bastogne–Liège, before defending his Tour de France title and truly proving he could do it all. There was a late season surge to add another Monument, Il Lombardia, and while the team picked up a few lesser wins from the likes of Juan Sebastian Molano and Matteo Trentin, the top ranked UCI rider of the year was the man of the moment. In almost all of the moments.
The defence of the Tour de France for the third year running will be top of the agenda for Team UAE, but with a wider range of talent on the books this year the Emirati team can look to other goals, too. João Almeida will relish the opportunity to fight for pink in Italy come May, in a race where he has shown great promise but has been frustrated for the past two years.
Tadej Pogačar ambition cannot be called in question as he targets not only the hat-trick at the Tour but also La Vuelta, not to mention the small matter of four of the five Monuments, and you’d be a fool to write him off achieving everything he sets his mind to this season.
Other new additions have been assured they will get their own chances, so expect to see the likes of Marc Soler and Davide Formolo go stage hunting at Grand Tours, should Pog put the GC out of sight early on as he did at least year’s Tour.
If you’ve been paying attention, you might have noticed the name Tadej Pogačar crop up once or twice over the past few years on the cycling scene. The kid’s clearly got a big future ahead of him. All joking aside, where INEOS sometimes struggle with too many leaders, and Quick-Step invest in shares of one vast super-ego, UAE Team Emirates are secure in their conviction that there is only one man for the job, and that man is Pogačar. His contract is good until 2026 and there’s no reason to think his dominance won’t last at least that long; UAE are sitting pretty and with the likes of Almeida, McNulty and Soler to support him, as well as pick up a win or two along the way, and Ayuso looking to follow in his footsteps, they are likely to be dominant for many years to come.
Things look bright for UAE Team Emirates, but with the sport developing and masses of young talent coming through across the sport, their reliance on one man could backfire if he gets injured or fatigued. Yet, Tadej Pogačar has an air of the invincible around him, and for 2022 at least, that trend looks likely to continue. In short, the man from Slovenia will win. A lot. The End.