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The double defending champ batted back a series of questions about his capabilities in the face of temperatures touted to hit near 40 degrees C as the race stretches across the mountains.
“I know what’s coming up for the next week, and I’m not scared,” Pogačar told reporters Monday.
Pogacar revealed a chink in his own triple-layer armor last summer when he expressed concern over the Saharan summer that swept through the Tour last year.
But that was then, and this is now.
A series of high-temperature training blocks including two 37-degree ascents of the Alpe d’Huez climb that will crown stage 12 on Thursday saw the UAE Emirates captain ice-cool in the rest-day conference.
“It will be the same for everyone,” Pogačar said of forecasts of thermometer-melting mercury.
“You just have to keep your body cool enough. I don’t think anyone likes to race for five hours in the 40 degrees, I don’t even think it’s healthy for us.”
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The mercury will be monitored by the UCI and its extreme weather protocol. Pogačar will be watching closest rival Jonas Vingegaard even closer.
The defiant Dane threatens 39-seconds back and believes the long steady grades of the Alps are his ideal terrain. Vingegaard also backs himself to go even better when the heat is high.
“We’ll have to wait and see for when it’s 35 degrees,” Pogačar said. “I’m not so bad in hot weather. We’ve been training in hot weather for many days before the Tour. We’ll see. Perhaps Vingegaard is slightly better in the heat if he says so, but we’ll have to wait and see.”
COVID equals exit for Pogačar: ‘It doesn’t matter if you have the yellow jersey or not’
Some said it’s only Vingegaard or COVID that can prevent Pogačar’s march to a third-straight Tour podium.
The virus continued to overshadow the Tour in the Alpine rest day. The 165-strong peloton all got the green light to race after a round of testing Sunday, but questions have been raised around vagaries in UCI health protocols and exit procedures.
“If you test positive above the threshold that means you’re really infectious and it’s not good for the teammates and the staff to be around. The group is always in close contact with us,” Pogačar said.
“The best is if you’re positive you go home. It doesn’t matter if you have the yellow jersey or not. It’s not safe for others. It can affect everyone’s health, especially when we race every day in such tough conditions. If you have the virus, its’s not really healthy.”
No letting go now
Pressure will be on Pogačar’s UAE crew through the Alps and Pyrénées in the next 10 days.
At one rider down after Vegard Stake Laengen left the race with COVID, there’s only six riders defending Pogačar’s wheels. That doesn’t mean he’s going to ease the pressure by gifting the jersey only to seize it back when it suits.
“At one point in the stage yesterday we could have given the jersey away if we wanted to, but my teammates like the yellow jersey as much as I do. It’s not just something you just give away,” Pogačar said.
“Everybody works really hard for the yellow jersey, for the whole year. Also with COVID and stuff like that, you never know when you [might] go home, so it’s not the best thing to just give away the jersey. You might never get it back.”
Pogačar took yellow on the last day of the race when he won his first title.
He carried it for 13 full days last year.
This year he could be on-course to take the tunic around France two days longer after topping the GC with victory in Longwy on stage 6.
Pogačar and his UAE Emirates team don’t see it as a burden to carry.
“You never say no to the yellow jersey, it’s something really special,” Pogačar said.
“It’s always better to be one step ahead than one step back. We’re in pole position now and we can control things, it’s easier for me and the team so for me it’s fine to be in the yellow jersey now and I hope to keep it all the way.”