UAE Team Emirates rider Tadej Pogacar is “prepared and confident” for his title defence at the Tour de France, which gets under way on Saturday.
The Slovenian arrives for the 108th edition of the race in sparkling form, having won the UAE Tour on his first race of the year followed by victories at Tirreno-Adriatico, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Tour of Slovenia.
Pogacar has had the spotlight on him since his success at the Tour de France last September. This year, he's also backed by a stronger UAE Team Emirates squad than the one which supported him in the last race.
“I feel really good, relaxed. I feel prepared and confident, particularly after the Tour of Slovenia,” Pogacar said on Thursday.
“I have had a very good year so far and I’m really looking forward to starting this Tour with good preparation and good condition. I am confident in myself and my team, we can’t wait for the challenge.”
Pogacar, 22, starts as the team leader but downplayed its significance.
“I don't consider myself a leader who will make demands of the team,” he added. “I don't have the most experience, other riders for sure have more. I'm the leader for the general classification but others are more suited to be road captain.”
The UAE Team Emirates have strengthened their roster considerably for this year's defence of the yellow jersey.
Pogacar can count on Brandon McNulty, Mikkel Bjerg, Rafał Majka, Vegard Stake Laengen, Davide Formolo, veteran Rui Costa and new signing Marc Hirschi.
Hirschi will return to the scene of his breakthrough race, albeit with very different objectives. Stage wins from the Swiss rider would be a bonus for the team aiming for a second overall victory in Paris.
McNulty, 23, was included in the Tour de France squad after his performance in the Tour of the Basque Country.
He wasn’t able to win the testing Basque stage race but he’d already done enough for his team managers to hand him a debut at the biggest race in the world.
“Basque was huge,” McNulty told cyclingnews.com. “It wasn’t exactly last-minute, but after that things did change quickly.
“The plan at the start of the year was to do the Giro but with the way the year went, and especially the way Basque went, we kind of decided it was maybe better to give the Tour a shot.
“It was a discussion between myself and the team. It wasn’t like it was the team telling me – ultimately it was my choice.
“But the timing of it… my level was so high at Basque it was like ‘okay, how do I rest and stay at this level' for what would have been five or six more weeks to the Giro.
“Fitness-wise it made sense to take a break, re-set, and build up for the Tour.”