Opinion

Pogačar peerless at the Tour, but not in cycling

With nearly six minutes lead and just three stages to come, Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) seems near-certain to complete a successful defence of his 2020 Tour de France title, but those claiming that it's unnatural to win by the margin he currently holds are off the mark.

The 22-year-old from Slovenia has taken the cycling world by storm since his elevation to the professional ranks with his almost assured second victory at the Tour de France further confirmation of his amazing talent. 

With five minutes and 45 seconds lead on second-place Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma), Pogačar has only a flat stage, a time trial, the traditional procession to Paris, and eight laps of the Champs-Élysées to negotiate without disaster to be crowned the Tour de France winner for the second time. 

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Fresh off winning his second stage in a row on a summit finish, Pogačar was caught off guard by a misguided post-race question about whether he needed to be worried about Vingegaard.

"Why should I be worried?" asked Pogačar in response, an answer that sounds arrogant written here, and it would be if it was a rhetorical question, but you sensed the confusion in the young rider that his near-six minute lead would be challenged in a 30-kilometre time trial. 

He then realised how that sounded and back-tracked to a more neutral response when reminded that he had claimed the yellow jersey off the back of a very impressive time trial to the top of the Planche des Belles Filles. 

When asked if the same could happen this year, Pogačar said: “Let’s hope not, but maybe. You can lose six minutes on a TT. It’s happened before, but I feel confident.”  



Barring disaster, Pogačar will win the 2021 Tour de France, maybe adding another stage win on the time trial, and will again stand atop the podium in Paris with three jerseys. His two summit finish wins vaulted him into the lead of the mountains competition, while the yellow and white jerseys come from his outstanding overall ride and youth.

He will be the only rider to win three jerseys in a single edition twice at the Tour de France, besting another Eddy Merckx record, who in 1969 won not only the general classification and the mountains classification, but also the points classification.

Whenever a rider wins the Tour de France, there are doping questions asked, it comes with the territory of a sport that has scandals in its history and a rigourous enough testing regime to catch out cheats and keep the story within the public's consciousness. I'm not saying he's not doping, I've got no more information on that score than anyone else that's been claiming that he is, just that claiming that he's far too dominant to be realistic are way off the mark.

The best cyclist at the Tour de France is always going to be amazing, they've just gone out and beaten 183 of the best athletes in the world. What the automatic questioners ignore is how Pogačar somehow went through a hectic first week crash-free, found perfect rainy conditions for him on key stages and had the major teams second or third choices riding against him for yellow.



Even those riders were coming in at a disadvantage, O'Connor looked close to quitting the race after his Stage 1 crash, suffering serious damage to his shoulder and then having to battle through the next few days, losing time along the way. He conceded nearly three minutes because of the after effects of that fall.

Vingegaard was working for Roglič on the early stages and lost time driving him home after his Stage 3 fall, he lost a minute and 8 seconds there, then crashed on Stage 8 where all the general classification contenders lost three minutes 25 seconds to a marauding Pogačar attack.



The margin of victory is what has spooked some, but when you consider the riders absent from the standings, they're the ones who should be filling out that void between 1st and 2nd.

Names like Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), Geraint Thomas, Richie Porte, Tao Geoghegan Hart (all INEOS Grenadiers) and Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious) were all primed to challenge the defending champion but all of them crashed early in the piece and never met the young Slovenian in peak form.

As for what that competition would have looked like, well tune back into SBS in less than a month's time for La Vuelta a Espana! That race looks set to be a parade of the best names in cycling fighting it out for the final red leader's jersey in Madrid.

2021 Giro d'Italia winner Egan Bernal will head another INEOS Grenadiers all-star team with Adam Yates, defending Vuelta champion Roglič will likely be there along with wunderkind Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep) as well.

And against them all, perhaps the best rider of a stellar generation of talented stars, Tadej Pogačar.  




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5 min read
Published 16 July 2021 at 6:28am
By Jamie Finch-Penninger