UAE Team Emirates rider Tadej Pogacar is ready to fight it out until the end at the Tour de France, where he sits second in general classification.
Visma Jumbo's Slovenian rider Primoz Roglic is the race leader and with six stages left for Sunday's finish, compatriot Pogacar – who won stage 15 on Sunday – believes he can make a strong challenge.
“Before the start of the tour, I didn’t expect to be in the position I am in now,” Pogacar said during the second rest day of the race on Monday.
“I was confident, though. I was in good shape but to be in this position on the second rest day is a little bit hard to believe. But now that I’m here, I’ll fight to the end.”
Pogacar, 21, revealed Roglic is a good friend but added both are very competitive on the road.
“Primoz is my friend and we have good relationship,” he added. “But on the road, we all want to win because this is cycling and this is a sport.
“We respect each other. I look up to him as a good rider. He really is a strong guy and good rider but if I can win I take the opportunities.”
Pogacar said Jumbo Visma are a strong outfit but insisted the fight for the yellow jersey is far from over.
“Jumbo Visma appear to be the strongest team this year, especially in this Tour,” he said.
“UAE Team Emirates are also strong and capable of challenging the best. The battle for the yellow jersey is not finished. I can’t tell how exactly we will fight for it."
Despite the good results so far, Pogacar expects the coming days to be tough for all riders.
“I think it will be super hard, especially the Grenoble [168km-long stage 17 on Wednesday],” he said.
“If you are good on this you can take a few seconds off but on a bad day you can lose half an hour.”
Pogacar won two stages and closed the gap on race leader Roglic. He is now aiming for the yellow jersey in the third week.
“That’s the plan,” he said. “The perfect scenario would be to take it on the evening of the final time trial but we live in a real world, and if there’s a chance to take it I will try."
Pogacar acknowledged that he was a “little bit surprised” by his success.
“I never saw myself winning two stages in the Tour, particularly in the first year of my Tour,” he added. “But I guess this is real so I’m happy about it.”
Tuesday’s stage 16 is a rugged 164-kilometre stage to Villard de Lans that’s made up of tough, narrow roads and deceptively difficult climbs.