Tour de France leader Pogacar congratulates Cavendish on 34th stage win
Injury to Rafal Majka could weaken UAE Team Emirates for upcoming mountain stages
Tour de France race leader Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) has revealed his admiration for Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-Quick Step) after the Briton secured a record-equaling 34th stage win.
Pogačar remains in yellow for a sixth straight day on Friday and remains firmly in control of the race. But on Friday afternoon in Carcassonne at least the biggest talking point of the Tour was inevitably the Briton's latest triumph.
"I remember watching him as a kid, doing phenomenal things and sprinting like a rocket man," Pogačar, who is 14 years younger than Cavendish, said. "It was really crazy stuff. I have a lot of respect for him."
After Cavendish's latest success, Saturday sees the GC battle recommence as Pogačar heads into the mountains to defend a massive overall lead.
But what should have been an uneventful day for the UAE squad gained considerably in tension when one of Pogacar's right-hand men in the mountains, Rafał Majka, suffered a bad crash.
Like Pogačar, Majka is both a former winner of a Tour de France stage in the Pyrenees and winner of the King of the Mountains classification.
The Pole will continue on, his team have confirmed, after post-stage checks confirmed he had not suffered any lung contusions or broken ribs. He'll receive more X-rays over the coming days, though a below-strength Majka is a blow to UAE just ahead of the Pyrenees.
"He was going really well until now," Pogačar said. "He showed he was prepared to help me in the last part of the race. I hope nothing is broken and he can continue tomorrow. It'll be a big loss if he goes home. Fingers crossed he can stay."
Regarding the upcoming Pyrenean battle, Pogačar said that it was to his benefit that his rivals might be a long way behind him but were crammed together on the GC.
There are currently seven riders, from second to eighth, spread over a two-minute time spectrum overall behind the Slovenian. But there is also a 5:18 margin between Pogačar and second-placed Rigoberto Urán (EF Education-Nippo), meaning Pogacar is standing head and shoulders above his rival.
"Them being so close together really helps me," Pogačar said. "They're fighting to beat each other." Referring to the high mountains battles he said, "Maybe some time I'll need to react and I cannot rely on anybody but myself.
"But for sure I'm in a good position and they will need to watch each other as well."
On Thursday, Pogačar had already insisted that he was improving compared to Wednesday's mini-crisis and on Friday, he said he was doing even better.
"It was quite a boring first half of the race, so then I was happier to be racing full gas in the last part. We are doing a good job with the yellow jersey, as a team even if unfortunately Rafał crashed so badly and maybe we are one less as a team."
As race leader for a sixth day, Pogačar press conferences are becoming a much more familiar occurrence than last year, and for the 22-year-old the protocols and interviews that follow each day in yellow represent a lengthy added task to his standard Tour day.
Asked how he felt about it, the Slovenian simply said he viewed the media obligations as going with the territory.
"It's closer to two hours than one and it's an extra job, " he said, "but when you are in yellow, that's fine." And surely he would have no objection to carrying that particular 'burden' all the way through the Pyrenees and on to Paris, too.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, 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. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.