Tour de France teammates praise Pogacar's style 'take what you can, when you can'

UAE Team Emirates teams Slovenian rider Tadej Pogacar R is congratulated by UAE Team Emirates teams Polish rider Rafal Majka L after winning the 6th stage of the 109th edition of the Tour de France cycling race 2199 km between Binche in Belgium and Longwy in northern France on July 7 2022 Photo by GONZALO FUENTES POOL AFP Photo by GONZALO FUENTESPOOLAFP via Getty Images
Stage 6 winner Tadej Pogacar celebrates with UAE Team Emirates teammate Rafal Majka at finish in Longwy (Image credit: GONZALO FUENTESPOOL AFP via Getty Images)

The whoops of delight from inside the UAE Team Emirates race bus near the Tour de France stage 6 finish at Longwy were clearly audible to journalists outside when Tadej Pogačar crossed the line to claim both the stage win and the yellow jersey. As the Slovenian's teammates wheeled to a halt outside, the celebratory mood only increased all the more.

Pogačar's last-minute attack had not been planned, the riders told journalists, and they will now face much more work on the front of the bunch for a possibly, very significant extra chunk of time in what is already an exhausting three-week race.

But while the benefits of Pogačar's ultra-aggressive racing style were plain to see as he raced across the line with an enormous roar of satisfaction, as his teammates said, neither his superiority nor his versatility on all kinds of terrain were a surprise any more. So if that meant extra responsibility in the race, so be it.

"It wasn't even necessarily part of the plan [that he attack], but we were all there in those last few climbs and we just went for it. We had faith in him and he pulled it off," US rider Brandon McNulty, 22nd on the stage, told journalists as he began his warm-down. "It's more on us with the jersey but you can never really turn it down."

McNulty's teammate Rafa Majka, next across the line for UAE Team Emirates, was equally delighted with Pogačar's success, and the huge hug that he gave McNulty showed how pleased he was with the role he and the American had played. Majka also underlined the collective superiority UAE Team Emirates had managed to show in the concluding segment of one of the most arduous stages so far in this year's Tour.

"We pulled on the stage with some other teams at first, but after 220 kilometres it's always a different race," Majka said.

"We had the legs as a team, and I could see after the first climb [of the final three -Ed.] that Tadej was in great shape. Me and Brandon really pulled hard and then Tadej handled the sprint.

"Sometimes in the first stages of this year's race we were a little bit behind but today we showed them we were there."

At the end of a resoundingly-fast day, Majka and McNulty said that they had never anticipated the longest stage of the Tour to be run off so quickly, particularly coming straight after the Roubaix-style stage on Wednesday.

"We were never expecting the stage to be so hard, that so many attacks and Van Aert going off the front," Majka said. "But some teams helped us and we all kept control of the race even if the last 20 kilometres were really fast. And in any case, Tadej won and that's what's important."

McNulty added: "We knew it could be a fight for a break, but it was such a fight, over an hour and a half almost, and we never really settled down. Then it was back to pacing and a really tough day."

But for all the fraught pace and the prolonged battle to get in the early move, not to mention Van Aert's day-long bid for glory, what failed to shock either UAE Team Emirates rider was the way Pogačar could end up triumphing on a stage that looked to favour the breakaways, not the GC specialists.

"It's no surprise he's so strong. He actually demonstrated that yesterday on the cobbles and in the TT before, too, [last Friday] that he can be strong everywhere," reasoned Majka. "And he's not afraid of anybody.

"We know he's a real phenomenon, a fuoriclasse. He asked us to put down as hard a pace as possible and he could just finish it off."

When it came to showing his authority prior to the Tour's biggest climbing, UAE Team Emirates' Marc Soler added, "It's good he showed what he could do before the mountains, but in fact he's been doing this all year - showing everybody what he can do.

"For sure, there'll be war between the favourites tomorrow, but he's won two Tours and it's looking good for the third. So let's see if he continues in this way. The key thing will be to control the other riders and keep on fighting."

As for whether Pogačar would now try to stay in yellow all the way to Paris, Majka would not be drawn, saying only, "We still have a long way to go, but for sure we've come to the race to win the Tour with Tadej, and for now he's the best rider in the world. I'm just happy, in any case, that we could win the stage."

All three riders argued, in fact, that despite the extra workload, grabbing yellow when the opportunity arose was never an option that could be or should be turned down.

"We knew he was good, but our original idea was to go for it tomorrow [Friday]. Instead today [Thursday] the chance came up and in the end, he didn't let us down," said Soler. "It's always better to take what you can, when you can."

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Alasdair Fotheringham

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 IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.