1959 Tour de France winner Federico Martin Bahamontes recognises that race leader Tadej Pogačar is in an excellent place overall in this year's GC battle, but the former Spanish racer warns a lot can still happen in the last week and a half.
"There's still nearly half the race left before Paris," Bahamontes, the oldest living Tour de France winner who celebrated his 93rd birthday on Friday, told Cyclingnews about the youngest rider to win the race in a century.
Speaking just as the race was about to hit the Pyrenees, the rider often rated as the Tour's best ever climber warned, "It's too soon for anybody to be sure of success. We'll have to wait and see what happens in the mountains. The Tour is always very long."
An admirer of Pogačar's overall prowess as a rider, Bahamontes said that a strong first two weeks like Pogačar had had was no guarantee that a rider would get through to the finish unscathed.
"A lot of these young riders have an excellent start, but there's a good way to go yet," he added. "We'll have to see what happens."
Bahamontes also reminded Pogačar and the other GC contenders that whatever happened in the Tour, the season would not finish there. "For one thing, there's all these criteriums afterwards, too, for riders to think about as well. Though there are not as many as there used to be back in my day, which is a pity."
Unlike Pogačar, the Eagle of Toledo was no spring chicken when he turned pro at the age of 25, and then became the first Spaniard to win the Tour, 42 years ago. Bahamontes turned 31 during the 1959 race before winning it on July 18th, coincidentally the same date that the 2021 race finishes this year.
Having seen off many of his rivals on the Puy de Dome uphill time trial, Bahamontes then donned the yellow jersey in Grenoble after breaking away with Charly Gaul and kept the French at bay in two more difficult days in the Alps.
In another recent interview with El Mundo, Bahamontes had both advice and praise for Pogačar, saying "he's a real phenomenon, but he has to be careful he doesn't burn himself out. I lost two or three because [five times Tour winner] Jacques Anquetil had some extra help from outside the race. That hurt."
Finally, Bahamontes, no mean climber himself, said he was also impressed with the gearing used by modern-day riders, saying "with what they use these days they could go up the side of a house."
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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