Tadej Pogacar arrives at Tour de France relaxed and ready to create more history

UAE Team Emirates leader shrugs off pressure ahead of bid for third straight title

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Tadej Pogacar may have the weight of cycling history on his slender shoulders, but the UAE Team Emirates leader could not have been more relaxed on the eve of the Tour de France.

“I don’t think about history that much, almost never,” the 23-year-old Slovenian said. “We have so many things going on, I just try to enjoy the moment, have fun on the bike, travel around the world, and see what that brings to me.”

Perhaps it's easy for Pogacar to ignore historical significance when he has become so accustomed to creating it. On his Tour de France debut in 2020, at the age of 21, Pogacar became the youngest rider since Henri Cornet in 1904 to win cycling's most prestigious road race – and in spectacular style too, snatching the yellow jersey on the penultimate stage with a time trial performance for the ages.

If his debut title had been a bit smash-and-grab, there was no mistaking his dominance last year, Pogacar proving head and shoulders above his rivals, no matter how hard they tried to gang up on him.

Just weeks after his victory procession along the Champs Elysees, Pogacar made more history as the first cyclist to win an Olympic road race medal the same year as winning the Tour de France.

The world's top-ranked cyclist for almost one year, Pogacar in April became the first road cyclist in history to surpass 6,000 points in the UCI World Rankings.

Now there are more major milestones in his sights: Pogacar is aiming to be just the sixth rider to win the Tour de France three years in a row, an achievement even the great Bernard Hinault was unable to accomplish.

If history has a habit of repeating itself, then Pogacar's rivals should be very wary indeed. Much like 12 months ago, he enters the Tour following titles at the Tirreno-Adriatico, UAE Tour, and earlier this month at the Tour of Slovenia.

Pogacar, with the support of his UAE Team Emirates colleagues, will very much be a hunted rider, not that it gives him any cause for concern.

“We will do our own thing,” Pogacar said. “We have a strong team of riders that I can trust. We are ready for all the attacks and we are fully motivated. If we stick together these three weeks, we should be fine.”

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While everything appears to be pointing towards another Tour de France triumph, Pogacar was quick to point out that nothing can be taken for granted in a race spanning 3,328km and 21 stages, across cobbled streets and through treacherous mountain terrain.

“Preparation has gone well. We’ve trained and raced at altitude, so I’m in good shape and the data is good,” Pogacar said. “But you still never know what happens in the race. You can have one bad day and it changes everything. So we will go day by day and hope we have good legs every day.”

The threat of Covid also still lingers. Hours before Thursday's press conference, UAE Team Emirates announced Italian rider Matteo Trentin had tested positive for Covid-19 and was forced to withdraw. He has been replaced by Switzerland's Marc Hirschi.

“It’s a bit worrying that cases are going around the peloton,” Pogacar said. “I just hope that now we are here we stay in our bubbles as much as possible and that we can continue without any more positive Covid tests.”

Fortunately for the rest of the team, they had not been in close contact with Trentin, teammate Mikkel Bjerg revealed. “Actually we were pretty lucky - unlucky to lose Matteo but lucky that he arrived the night before and was not in close contact with any of the other riders,” the 23-year-old Dane said. “Marc is coming now and we are confident that he can support the team in a good way.”

As the Tour de France gets set for its Grand Depart on Friday – a 13km time trial in the Danish capital of Copenhagen – Pogacar and UAE Team Emirates can't wait to get started.

“I'm excited to start the Tour again,” he said. “Like any other race, I want to do my best here. It’s the biggest race of the year so I’m happy to be at the start line and excited to fight for the title.”

Updated: July 01, 2022, 3:42 AM