The coming Tour de France battle will test the friendship of Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič

Pogačar now most direct threat to Roglič for decisive mountain battle in Alps.

Photo: Getty Images

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Primoź Roglič would be firmly in control of the Tour de France if it wasn’t for one rider.

Jumbo-Visma’s blistering pace has silenced the GC stars — except for one rider.

And that lone rider is one of Roglič’s best friends in the peloton — Tadej Pogačar.

The pair face off in Wednesday’s decisive “queen stage” in the Alps that could decide the yellow for the 2020 Tour.

Divided by just 40 seconds, their friendship will take a back seat in an epic stage high in the French Alps to try to become the first Slovenian rider to win the Tour de France.

“Pogačar is the closest rival and we will be watching him,” Roglič said. “Pogačar is a big rival, for sure he will attack.”

The setting couldn’t be more spectacular. The route tackles the Col de la Madeleine before finishing at the highest point of this year’s route at 2,304m at the Col de la Loze.

Roglič (right) and Pogačar train together in Monaco. Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images

With that kind of altitude, many expected the Colombians to fighting for the spoils. Egan Bernal finished in the gruppetto Tuesday, and it’s the surprising Slovenian slayers who have emerged as the best climbers of the 2020 Tour.

Roglič and Pogačar have known each other for years. Roglič was the emerging superstar who became a national hero when he won the 2019 Vuelta a España. Pogačar is a cycling prodigy, winning the Tour de l’Avenir in 2018 before blazing through his rookie season last year, capped by winning three stages and finishing third at the Vuelta behind Roglič.

“Primož is my friend, but at the race, we are both trying to win,” Pogačar said. “We have not spoken much during this race. We are both concentrated on the Tour, and with our teams.”

The elder Roglič has taken his younger compatriot under his wing and acts a bit of a mentor. The experience at the Vuelta last year cemented their friendship, with Roglič content to let Pogačar be his wingman so long as he wasn’t a direct threat.

The pair is close, and occasionally train together in Monaco. Pogačar moved there over the winter, and lives in the same building as UAE-Emirates teammates Davide Formolo and Valerio Conti.

That friendship is now being strained by the intense tug-of-war for the yellow jersey. There was some speculation that Roglič might have gifted the stage to Pogačar at Sunday’s Grand Colombier. But with time bonuses on the line, Roglič was quick to point out he wanted the stage.

“We are quite good friends, but right now each of us is racing for our own teams,” Roglič said. “I really wanted to win [Sunday] but Tadej was a bit faster in the end — chapeaux.”

Time bonuses could come into play Wednesday. There are winning bonuses for the top-3 at the line. Earlier in the Tour, Roglič built his lead to Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) using bonuses. Now it’s Pogačar who is chipping away at Roglič.

Pogačar (right) was stronger than Roglič in the sprint for the stage win atop the Grand Colombier. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

“When you win, it’s better to win with the bonus seconds,” he said. “When you don’t win, it’s not nice to lose the bonus seconds. It will be really, really hard tomorrow.”

Jumbo-Visma seems to have a vice-like control on the peloton. They squeezed the pace so hard Sunday that Bernal popped out of the back of the peloton, plummeting out of GC contention. Despite its tight trip, Pogačar is managing to deliver sharp attacks that have pushed Roglič to the limit.

Pogačar seems to be the only rider capable of upending Jumbo-Visma’s otherwise near-perfect Tour so far. Roglič is well aware of his young friend’s powerful surges. When Pogačar moved in the Pyrénées, Roglič was quick to mark his wheel.

“There is a lot of respect for each other,” said UAE-Emirates sport director Allan Peiper. “They are good friends. They’re not going to stand in each other’s way, but they’re not going to help each other either. It’s going to be a very exciting final week.”

Their friendship will endure the Tour, but Wednesday will be all about business.

The 170km stage from Grenoble to Méribel tackles the Col de la Madeleine midway through the stage before the HC summit at Col de la Loze. The road was only recently paved over on what was a service road on a ski run at Les 3 Vallées ski area.

“I’m ready for the queen stage,” Pogačar said. ” The end is very hard. It will be difficult for everyone.

“In the last six kilometers, you really have to have very good legs,” he said. “You can lose a lot of time if you don’t have good legs. Even when we rode it in training it was hard to get to the top. I cannot imagine what it will be like in the race.”

With Pogačar nipping at his heels, Roglič also wants to make sure he holds a gap going into the final time trial in the Vosges. Pogačare beat Roglič by nine seconds in the Slovenian national time trial championship in June on a course half the length on what waits on the Tour’s penultimate day.

“We are happy with the situation,” Roglič said. “Even when you have five minutes, you’d like to have more. We need the team to be strong and I have to have a good day. It is the highest point of the Tour, and the the ‘queen’ stage.

“It will be crazy-hard tomorrow in the 5km,” Roglič said. “It will be a big fight for every second.”

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