Defending champion and runaway leader Tadej Pogacar said Monday he was straining at the leash to test himself to the limit on the six remaining stages on the Tour de France. In contrast to most of his rivals Monday the 22-year-old looked fresh and relaxed, swigging mineral water after what he called “a rest-day run around lovely Andorra, just to clear my mind”.
Having avoided the falls and burnout that have afflicted others, the Slovenian goes into the final week of racing with a lead of more than five minutes over his three most credible rivals; EF’s Rigoberto Uran, Jumbo’s Jonas Vingegaard and Ineos man Richard Carapaz. Pogacar was surprised when it was suggested he looked fresher than anyone else.
“I’m tired, sunburned and not sleeping very well,” he replied, admitting he was also a “bit worried” about Wednesday stage 17, which features a grueling climb to a finish at an altitude of 7200 feet atop the Col du Portet.
“Something dramatic can happen any day, so any chance I see to gain time I’ll grab it,” he promised. “I’m looking forward to racing through the Pyrenees.
“Maybe I’m crazy, but that’s how I like to ride.”
Unruffled by doping questions
The UAE Emirates leader won three stages and came third in the 2019 Vuelta a Espana before his penultimate day grab of the 2020 Tour de France, and with that success has come increased scrutiny including whispered accusations of doping. But Pogacar is quick to dismiss such claims, insisting he was “not taking short cuts”.
“I’m not angry, and I don’t prepare answers. I accept this stuff and I just speak from the heart,” he said when asked if he had been hot-housed in how to tackle questions on the subject.
“I believe I come from a good family, and they raised me to be a nice boy.
“I assure you, I’m not taking short cuts in my life,” he said.
Pogacar suggested earlier in the race he had been tested by doping controllers three times in one day.
There are certainly no short cuts on the final week of the Tour with three days in the Pyrenees and, as with 2020 where he sealed his triumph, a 18 mile individual time-trial, a discipline in which he also excels.
Saint-Emilion and the Champs-Elysees
If Pogacar does have a chink in his armour he won’t reveal it willingly.
“The reason I don’t share my data is because that way my rivals might take advantage of it, seeing where I’m least comfortable,” he said.
Saturday’s time-trial run through the Saint-Emilion vineyards will provide us with an overall champion, but there will be one last roll of the dice on Sunday on the Champs-Elysees.
On arguably the most famous avenue in the world, British sprinter Mark Cavendish can crown an astonishing comeback by adding a fifth win on this edition of the Tour that would break the all-time record of 34 stage wins, which he shares with Belgian great Eddy Merckx.
RBA/AFP Photos: Bettini