Tadej Pogačar has confessed to conflicting emotions when he beat fellow Slovenian Primož Roglič to overall victory at the Tour de France. In an interview with L’Équipe, the UAE Team Emirates rider also acknowledged that all Tour winners must live with suspicion because of the history of the sport.
Roglič led the Tour for 10 days but Pogačar dramatically divested him of the maillot jaune on the penultimate stage by winning the time trial to La Planche des Belles Filles. Pogačar, who been a supporter of Roglič throughout his career, paid tribute to his magnanimity at the finish.
"At the time, I didn’t really know what to feel. Everything was tangled up in my chest, I had conflicting emotions," Pogačar told L’Équipe.
"I had been a Roglič fan since his first results. Between the ages of 15 and 20, I was shouting in front of my television for him to win, and now I was the one who had beaten him, who had denied him from achieving what he had been dreaming of for years… It was really strange. I kept telling myself: 'That’s racing, that’s sport, it’s normal that I want to win'."
The afternoon’s abiding image was of the beaten Roglič interrupting Pogačar’s first post-stage interview to offer his congratulations.
"In fact, it was Primož who managed to calm me," Pogačar said. "A few minutes after he finished, I was in the television tent and he came to find me and give me a hug. I’ll never forget that moment… It’s as though he was giving me permission to enjoy it and telling me it wasn’t my fault."
Pogačar was aware that many supporters in Slovenia were hoping Roglič would claim the Tour. "They were a bit like me, they would have preferred Primož to win," he said. "I realised it, I saw it on social media, they told me. But what can I do about it? Nothing."
Both riders are based in Monaco and occasionally train together. "If we meet by chance [while out training], then one of us does a U-turn and we carry on together," Pogačar said. "He’s a nice guy. He doesn’t like to put himself forward. I often talk with him in races. For me, he’s not like a rival."
Pogačar was still a day shy of his 22nd birthday when he rode down the Champs-Élysées in the maillot jaune. He told L’Équipe that he was aware that his youth and the manner of his victory had caused some to view his triumph with scepticism.
"All those who win the Tour are suspect and that’s because of the past of some of them. That’s the history of cycling: there have been so many cases that it’s difficult for people to believe," Pogačar said.
"We still need time to come out of that and gain respect again. We have to live with that. We don’t talk about it among ourselves. We concentrate on what we’re doing: trying to be one of the best teams in the world, finding the best material, improving everything we can."
Asked if he had been aware of professional cycling’s doping history before entering the professional peloton, Pogačar said: "Yes, when I was young [..] everybody talked a lot about that. At the club, every year, we had to sign a charter saying that we’d never dope. I signed that for a decade.
"Last June, I watched the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary on Lance Armstrong. I discovered just where all that could take somebody. Today, I have the feeling that doping has been reduced a lot in cycling."
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