QUILLAN, France (VN) — With Tadej Pogačar leading the yellow jersey with such a commanding lead, questions about his performances seem inevitable considering cycling’s dirty past.
The Slovenian entered Saturday’s 14th stage nursing the largest lead at the midway point of the race since 2005, a year that was right in the middle of controversial era of the now-disgraced Lance Armstrong.
Some seem quick to paint any major performances in the Tour de France with suspicion.
Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) cautioned it’s too soon to jump to any conclusions about this Tour and if there is any reason to suspect the yellow jersey simply based on how big of a lead Pogačar might hold.
“We shouldn’t be here to judge him,” Martin told VeloNews. “We live in a world where it’s innocence until proven guilty. You can see the skill he has on the bike, and you could see how he was totally exposed there in the final, and he was still fighting alone and he was doing a good job.
“We have to see what the future holds, but right now, we have to respect him and respect the yellow jersey.”
‘It’s the world we live in, it’s the history of the sport’
Martin, 34, raced his entire career as an outspoken opponent to doping and a supporter of cycling’s efforts to try to wrench itself out of the EPO Era and into a more transparent and credible period.
Martin was quick to point out that one reason Pogačar is leading with such a wide margin is that crashes and foul weather took their toll on many of the Slovenian’s direct rivals.
“It’s the world we live, it’s the history of the sport,” Martin said at the start Saturday. “It’s one thing to see the GC, but it’s important to understand the circumstances of how he got those gaps. He got the majority in one day when he made a brave attack in conditions that suited him and didn’t suit his rivals.”
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Martin said right now there is nothing that is waving any red flags about how this Tour de France is being raced and won.
With teams and riders jealously guarding their training techniques and power numbers, Martin said it’s also impossible to know what anyone in the peloton is doing.
“It’s really hard to know,” Martin told reporters. “I kind of take the attitude now that there is really one person who knows, and it is him. If [Pogačar] can look himself in the mirror at the end of the day, it’s fair play to him.”
Going into Saturday’s stage, Pogačar started 5:18 ahead of second-place rider Rigoberto Urán (EF Education-Nippo), with another group of riders all bundled up within one minute of the Colombian.
Pogačar said he can use that big gap to his advantage going into the Pyrénées for Sunday for three decisive climbing stages that will give his rivals the last chance to attack him.
Martin said he sees no vulnerability on Pogačar’s defense, except that he doesn’t appear to like to race in heat and excessively warm temperatures.
“We saw on Ventoux perhaps the vulnerability there, because he prefers the wet and the cold weather,” Martin said. “It’s temperature conditions that affect him the most. He is going really good, but in these conditions, if you make one mistake, if miss one bottle, that can be the end of your race.
“You can pay a high cost for that,” Martin said. “At the moment, it looks like it’s his race to lose, and it could come down to him making a mistake that could cost him. He’s got a good team around him.”
Though there is still a lot of racing to go, Pogačar could be the first rider to win back-to-back yellow jerseys since Chris Froome won three in a row from 2015-2017.
When asked as if this is the start of the Pogačar Era, Martin said with a laugh as he pedaled away, “it already started last year, huh?”