Tadej Pogacar lets the pressure of the defending champion bounce off. Anything less than a third Tour de France victory would be a surprise.
Tadej Pogacar used the rare opportunity for a little flirtation.
‘You look wonderful in your dress. Can I have your number?” the 23-year-old top favorite in the Tour de France asked the moderator of the team presentation with a rascal grin. Deeply relaxed and in a good mood, the defending champion was shortly before the start and conquered the hearts of the Danes in Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens with easy sayings: “I heard there aren’t many mountains here and you like potatoes.” The crowd howled.
This lightness has long been Pogacar’s trademark, he will want to carry it through the three-week ordeal through the Alps and Pyrenees again. “We will smile to the end no matter what,” Pogacar said. He could probably only lose his permanent grin by missing the third tour victory. However, anything but another triumph on the Parisian Champs-Élysées would be a surprise. Pogacar presented itself too light-footed, too untouchable on the last tour and also this year. The Slovenian took part in three tours – and won them all.
Corona as the greatest danger – relaxed rules
Pogacar’s biggest threat is invisible. Because the new coronavirus wave is busy and also hits the peloton. It was only on Wednesday that Pogacar’s helper Matteo Trentin had to leave the race before the start because of a positive test. A somewhat harder blow, after all, the experienced and powerful Trentin should protect Pogacar in the dangerous first week.
The world association UCI has even relaxed the corona rules. Instead of PCR tests, only quick tests are now necessary, and if two drivers in a team are positive, the whole team does not have to pack up like before. In addition, a driver can theoretically stay in the race even if the test is positive – if he is proven to be symptom-free and not contagious. “We have tightened the rules within the team again and are wearing masks on the bus again,” said German veteran John Degenkolb.
Who beats the “child prodigy”?
On the 3346.6 kilometers of road over 21 stages, Pogacar will be difficult to crack. “He’s a true cycling prodigy,” said two-time Tour winner Alberto Contador. The 39-year-old Spaniard now works as a TV expert and admires Pogacar’s lightness above all. “Tadej can deal with enormous stress as if he weren’t interested in it at all. He acts like it’s the most normal thing in the world. And I know from my own experience that pressure can be a real challenge.”
The competition still wants to stress Pogacar wherever possible. Above all the team Jumbo-Visma with chief challenger Primoz Roglic. The Slovenian has the Dane Jonas Vingegaard at his side, who came second last year, and also an immensely strong team with various options for attacks. “We firmly believe that we can beat Tadej,” said Roglic. Time is running out for the 32-year-old, and the dream of winning the Tour threatens to burst.
Another podium candidate is the Russian Alexander Wlassow, who works for the German racing team Bora-hansgrohe. “I hope that I can compete for victory here,” said Vlasov. In addition to Pogacar, the 26-year-old is the best round driver this year. However, he lacks time trial qualities, which Vlasov doesn’t particularly care about: “The tour will be decided in the mountains.”
But there he needs a safer grip on the bike than at the team presentation. As part of the spectacle, the climbing specialist fell slightly, abrasions on his knees and elbows testified to it. “It was just a small fall,” emphasized Vlasov. It won’t hinder him in the 13.2-kilometre opening time trial on Friday.
Time trial as a sign
Nevertheless, the short hunt through Copenhagen’s city center is of great importance. Roglic and Co. have to make a mark against the dominator Pogacar, even if they only gain a few seconds. Because that’s the only way they’ll be able to put pressure on Pogacar. The first difficult mountain test will not take place until next Friday on the up to 24 percent steep ski slope to La Super Planche des Belles Filles.
The nine German professionals will probably not play a role there. Most of them are used as helpers, drivers like Lennard Kämna, Maximilian Schachmann and Nils Politt are also hoping for breakaway victories on undulating terrain.
Away from the racing action, the Bahrain-Victorious team keeps the tour spectacle in suspense. On Thursday morning, the team hotel and vehicles were searched by the Copenhagen police, following a request from their French colleagues. According to a team statement, nothing was confiscated. The apartments of drivers and team members had already been searched on Monday and there was also a raid during the tour last year. Results are not yet available.