Another day in yellow for Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) who has never appeared even remotely flustered on this Tour de France. Even when the peloton split briefly with 17km remaining on stage 10, the Slovenian marshalled his way towards the front with minimal fuss. He would reach Valence securely in the peloton, as Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep) sprinted to victory, his imposing overall lead safely intact.
"After the rest day it's always a little tricky with the legs, but I felt OK," Pogačar said. "In the end, we opened up the gas a little bit in the crosswinds. It was good to spin the legs and go a little bit full gas before tomorrow."
Before casting his mind forward to Wednesday's novel double ascent of Mont Ventoux, Pogačar revisited a topic that had been grazed upon during his short rest day press conference in Tignes, when he said that anti-doping controls alone were "enough" to allay any doubts about the validity of his performances. In Valence on Tuesday, Pogačar was asked if there was anything more he could do to demonstrate the credibility of his dominance on this Tour.
"I don't know. Yesterday I've been asked this one question and I stated the facts. I don't know what else to do to prove my innocence," said Pogačar, who suggested that the crashes of touted rivals like Primoz Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) had inflated his early cushion.
"I'm dominating this race but if you look at the times on the climbs you can already see why it's such a gap. After the crashes the first few days, the field is just not the level it's supposed to be. I didn't suffer any crashes, so for me, it's really good."
In years past, riders have released varying amounts of power data in the interests of transparency. In 2015, for instance, Tom Dumoulin released his numbers from the Vuelta a España, while six whole years of Thibaut Pinot's training data were published by his brother and coach Julien. For his part, Pogačar intimated that he was reluctant to release his power data lest it presents a competitive advantage to his rivals.
"To open up the files, I would love to. But then the thing is, everybody sees your files and the other teams can use that against you in the race," Pogačar said. "But I can tell you that I push good watts and that's why I'm the first, no?"
Pogačar's exhibitions on the Col de Romme and Col de la Colombière on stage 8 and his encore at Tignes a day later leave him in a seemingly invulnerable position as the Tour approaches its midpoint. AG2R Citroën's Ben O'Connor, second on GC at 2:01, is the only rider within five minutes of Pogačar in the overall standings, and it seems only an accident or incident can possibly deny the Slovenian a second successive victory in Paris.
After falling – albeit without lasting injury – on the opening stage in Brittany, Pogačar smiled at the idea that he might be, like Miguel Indurain before him, somewhat inured to the variables that tumble into the paths of most professional cyclists.
"I crashed five times in training this year, just by surprise, and I crashed the first day in the Tour," he said. "So I will keep focused and try not to be in danger and avoid bad luck."
The Tour returns to the mountains on Wednesday with a stage that incorporates two ascents of Mont Ventoux on the road to Malaucène. A gentler approach from Sault is followed by the tougher and more familiar approach from Bedouin. Pogačar has never raced up Mont Ventoux, but he did reconnoitre the Giant of Provence this spring.
"I've been there just once, for the recon. I did two laps of the hard climb," said Pogačar. "To do two times Mont Ventoux is pretty hard, and especially tomorrow it's going to be really hard. I expect it to be a super hard day, where a lot of things can go wrong – or good."
For Pogačar, more or less everything has gone well on this Tour thus far, but he downplayed the idea that he was eager to add a mountain stage victory to his triumph in the Laval time trial last week.
"I've already won a stage, so I'm pretty happy with that," he said. "Maybe sometimes you can do a mistake by going for the stage, and burn all the matches from the team. So the first goal is just to defend the yellow."
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