Tadej Pogačar made history last summer by becoming the first rider since Eddy Merckx to win three different jerseys at the 2020 Tour de France.
Could he do it again?
Last year, the Slovenian won the yellow, white, and polka-dot jerseys — the first time since Merckx won three of the main category jerseys in one Tour — when he won the yellow, polka-dot, and green jerseys in 1969. The only reason Merckx didn’t win the best young rider’s jersey is that the category wasn’t created until 1975.
Pogačar also became only the ninth rider since World War II to win the Tour on his first try.
What’s next for Pogačar in 2021?
Confirming yellow, of course.
“We hope to win the Tour de France again this year,” Pogačar said earlier this season. “The team is working well together and we believe we will be even stronger this year.”
Stronger team for yellow jersey quest
UAE-Team Emirates bolstered its lineup during the winter to bring on some added firepower to help Pogačar defend yellow. Marc Hirschi and Rafał Majka are expected to line up June 26 in Brest, along with Brandon McNulty, whose strong spring campaign saw him emerge as one of the team’s strongest riders.
The young American said his helper role will see him push into the mountains as far as he can to protect Pogačar from attacks from Ineos Grenadiers, Jumbo-Visma, and the other challengers.
“We have the defending champ, and we’ll be riding for him,” McNulty said. “I’d love to help Tadej win another overall, and if I can go well in the time trials, then maybe if there is a chance for a stage, but that there are a lot of things that need to go right, so we’ll see.”
If Pogačar wins another yellow, he’d also win the best young rider’s jersey as well. At only 22, Pogačar could be winning that under-26 category for the next few years.
And then there’s the King of the Mountains jersey. Last year, Richard Carapaz led the competition until the final time trial, when Pogačar catapulted to yellow, and gained enough points to wear polka-dot as well.
As a top climber chasing bonus seconds at the finish lines, it’s likely that Pogačar will be in the mix again for polka-dot even if the yellow jersey is the primary target. This year’s course, with only three major summit finales, should see Pogačar also close in the KoM competition, though it is rare to see the yellow jersey also win the polka-dot jersey.
In fact, Chris Froome in 2015 became the only other yellow jersey winner to also win the climber’s jersey since Merckx in 1970.
Points jersey remains in hands of sprinters
And what about the points jersey? Bernard Hinault in 1979 is the last yellow jersey to also win the green jersey in Paris. Pogačar has never won a points jersey in a major stage race since turning pro in 2019, though he’s been close, including second in the 2019 Vuelta a España.
Last year, Pogačar was eighth in the points competition, though he earned less than half of the points of winner Sam Bennett.
So for 2021, if Pogačar makes it to Paris, he’ll almost certainly be in the white jersey. The only young rider who could be in position to top him would be Sergio Higuita (EF Education-Nippo) because most of the other younger riders are either in helper roles or are not up to Pogačar’s level. And if Pogačar wins another yellow jersey, the white would come along with it.
The King of the Mountains also seems unlikely but could happen, while the green will remain the domain of the stage-hunters and sprinters.
For Pogačar and UAE-Team Emirates, winning the yellow jersey again is the top priority.
The team wants to defend the Tour title — and make Pogačar the first back-to-back winner since Froome in 2015-2017 — and erase any hint of an asterisk that might have come with a victory during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.
Anything else that might come along is simply a bonus.