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Tadej Pogačar is poised to ride into the yellow jersey this weekend in the French Alps and perhaps keep it all the way to Paris.
With another GC rival going down in flames Friday with Primož Roglič losing more than four minutes to the favorites, the defending champion is lined up to take firm control of the race.
What can rivals do?
Pogačar can beat them on the climbs, in the time trials, and on the line for time bonuses.
“I don’t see it at the minute,” Team BikeExchange’s Simon Yates said Friday of a possible weak point. “He can do everything. If you’re picking the small things, maybe his team isn’t the strongest. Sometimes in the finals, he is isolated, but maybe that is because they’re bringing a strong climbing team. For him? I don’t see a thing.”
“I don’t think he has too many weak points,” echoed Jumbo-Visma’s Sepp Kuss said of Pogačar. “Maybe it’s his team. You can lose a lot of time every day in the Tour.”
Also read: Pogačar goes on the defensive
So far, Pogačar has avoided the mishaps and crashes that have plagued riders like Roglič and Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers), who both crashed in the opening stages.
Pogačar was caught up behind a crash in stage 3 and lost some time, but did not crash. He made it all back and then some in Wednesday’s time trial.
Ineos Grenadiers revealed their hand by sending Richard Carapaz up the road late in Friday’s lumpy finale, but Movistar led a chase for 10km, perhaps to reel in the rider who left their team and to protect their GC position as well as team classification chances.
The dynamics are clear: Pogačar’s team might not be the strongest, but he is clearly the strongest rider in the bunch.
For veteran pro Dan Martin, it should set up an interesting opening weekend of climbing in the Alps.
“Everyone hopes they can take time off Tadej, and they need to take a lot of time,” said Israel Start-Up Nation’s Martin on Friday. “Everyone is seeing UAE as the weakest team. Tadej is the strongest but UAE maybe cannot control the race. It’s going to be interesting to see how aggressive people are from far out.”
— Sadhbh O'Shea (@SadhbhOS) July 2, 2021
For years, the strongest rider in the Tour was Chris Froome who was also on the strongest team — Team Sky. Now the tables are turned, with the strongest team lacking their ace in the hole.
It should set up some fun racing, even if the end result is the same in Paris as last year.
“It’s his race to lose. He showed he has the legs there in the TT by a mile,” said Yates. “It puts a lot of guys in a position where they have to do something. They’re used to being more conservative and staying on the wheels.”
As Bernault Hinault used to say it best, “attack!”