Tadej Pogačar can’t wait to start racing the Tour de France. He has done the altitude training, the mountain reconnaissance, dodged COVID-19 infections and proved he is race fit by dominating the Tour of Slovenia. Now his youthful enthusiasm means he is itching to race.
“I can’t wait to start. I’m excited, it's going to be great to get the ball rolling,” Pogačar said in his final press conference on Thursday afternoon.
“I’m excited again to start the Tour de France, like I am for any race. I want to do my best. The Tour is the biggest race in the calendar, so I’m pretty happy to be at the start and to fight for the title.
“I think this Tour de France will be awesome for the riders, for the people on the roadside and those watching on television. For us, the Tour will be brutal some days, fun others, for sure hard from the start.”
Pogačar will try to gain time on some of his overall rivals in Friday’s time trial and also try to challenge the time trial specialists. He has opted to start early, at 5:05 pm local time, in a bid to limit the risk of possible rain showers.
He will then take on the challenge of the first week of tense racing, echelons and cobbles before the Tour climbs into the Alps and the Pyrenees and then is decided in the final time trial. On Thursday, he said that he was not afraid to take race leadership and its responsibilities.
“Never say no to the yellow jersey,” Pogačar said. “You never don’t want to be in yellow. If there’s a chance, everyone wants to take it, what comes with it. The podium, the press conference etc are all part of being in yellow.”
Stronger and more confident than ever
Pogačar snatched his first Tour win in 2020 in the final time trial then dominated in 2021, creating a new era at the race. Worryingly for his rivals, he is convinced he is still getting better, and that his UAE Team Emirates squad is stronger than ever and able to help him win again.
“I think the shape is good compared to last year, not too much different and maybe that’s why I’m more confident. Every year I feel a little better but will soon find out if it’s true or not,” he said.
“We’ll do our best to win this race, we have a strong team, with guys I can trust. We’re ready for all the attacks.”
Pogačar appeared confident but he has stayed humble and grounded despite a €6 million salary and comparisons to Eddy Merckx, even by the Cannibal himself.
“I’ve got more confident over the years because I’m more experienced. The training has been good and I have a good team, that’s what builds confidence,” he said.
“Still, you never know what happens in the race; one bad day can change everything even if you’re on good form. I hope to have good legs every day.
“Cycling isn’t science-fiction and we have to fight all the way to win. Everyone has weak points. Nobody has a perfect day every day. I hope a bad day doesn't happen to me in the Tour and that we survive the difficult moments. For sure there will be difficult moments, that’s normal in cycling and especially in Grand Tours.”
Pogačar will join an ever more exclusive club of multiple Grand Tour winners if he takes a third consecutive victory in this year’s Tour. Only Louison Bobet, Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Miguel Indurain and Chris Froome have previously succeeded in doing so.
Yet Pogačar is still only 23 and so has little time for looking back and considering his place in cycling history. He looks forward to more success.
“We have so much going on in our present life that it’s difficult to look back. I just try to enjoy the moment and have fun on the bikes. We’ll see what the future brings,” he said.
No fear of his rivals, focusing on his own race
Pogačar is not overly concerned about the recent COVID-19 cases in the peloton or the first week of tense racing in Denmark and northern France.
“We’re really strong as a team, we don't need to be aggressive or defensive,” he explained, with leadership.
“We’ll do our own thing, go to the front and fight for position. We’re ready for that. We shouldn't be worried.”
His rivals also seem of little of concern, with Pogačar unconcerned about being caught in a Jumbo-Visma sandwich of Primož Roglič and Jonas Vingegaard.
“I don’t like to pick out names of who is the strongest. There’s a lot of competition and in three weeks, there are many strong riders and key moments,” he suggested.
“All the teams and names all at 100% and ready to race, so it will be a battle of many riders and teams. We have one of the strongest teams so we shouldn’t be worried about our rivals but focus on ourselves.”
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