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Tour de France

George Bennett: We won’t underestimate Tadej Pogačar’s Tour de France rivals

Jumbo-Visma and others will continue to seek to dethrone Pogačar, and Bennett says that they're ready.

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BESANÇON, France (VN) — Tadej Pogačar looks far and away the best rider at the Tour de France for the third year running, but his teammate George Bennett says that UAE Team Emirates will not underestimate his rivals.

Jumbo-Visma is one of Pogačar’s biggest competitors with Jonas Vingegaard sitting just 35 seconds behind the Slovenian. Meanwhile, Roglič is climbing back up the rankings after losing a lot of time on stage 5, and he is currently in 13th place at 2:45 behind.

Bennett spent seven seasons riding for Jumbo-Visma and moved to UAE Team Emirates just this season, and the New Zealander will know better than almost anyone how they race. He doesn’t expect them to roll over and says that UAE is ready for anything.

“Tadej is the best rider I’ve seen in my life, but I also know Primož and Jumbo is such a good team and maybe you don’t beat him one on one, but you set up little situations,” Bennett said. “They have the advantage of having two guys that are dangerous. That just means that Tadej needs guys a strong team around him, which he does and the stronger you are, the more everybody tries to flick you, so you need a better team.

“As you become a better rider, you need a better team. We brought a good team here. I expect, I don’t know what day it will be, but there will be one day where it goes absolutely apeshit. Primož goes in the break, Sepp [Kuss] drops everybody, you know. There’s going to be a situation where we really need to be ready, so we never underestimate them. We expect war every day. Maybe it’s a sprint stage and they put their big guys in the crosswinds. I’ve done enough crazy stages.”

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Pogačar grabbed a bit more time on all of his rivals in the first mountain stage of the Tour de France after claiming victory atop Planche des Belles Filles. The only rider that didn’t lose time on the road was Vingegaard, who attacked in the final meters but was caught by Pogačar shortly before the line.

Many had expected the day to go down to a breakaway and some speculated that Pogačar would try to lose the yellow jersey briefly, but he wasn’t keen on that.

“We made no secret that we wanted to ride for the stage, we were very open about it. Planche des Belles Filles is a special climb, especially for Tadej. I don’t know what we’re going to do for the next few days, but I don’t think there’s a problem with having the jersey,” Bennett said.

“Every day in yellow is good and I think we survived the first week really well. We got a little bit of criticism because we weren’t lined up with all eight guys doing the old trains, but Tadej had guys with him. You also saw today how strong Jonas and Primož were so we’re going to have a really big battle. As a fan of cycling, I’m looking forward to it.”

Bennett put in a strong pull at the front of the bunch on the final climb to help bring the breakaway back. He was able to close the gap a small bit but it took a huge effort from the whole squad to shut it down and set Pogačar up for the stage win.

“I wasn’t feeling so good today. I had a really tough day yesterday, I spent the whole day chasing after some mechanical issues. The boys did an awesome job, Vergard [Stake Laengen] and Mikkel [Bjerg] they pulled like animals,” he said. “I was suffering in the wheels, and I was already on the limit on this little climb before. I was able to recover a bit at the bottom of the climb, but I didn’t last too long. Once Brandon [McNulty] was pulling, he was pulling so fast. The breakaway was really strong we had to pull that fast. I thought we would catch them halfway up, but they really did a super job.”