All four men currently sit between the final podium position and Slovenian wunderkind Tadej Pogačar, who seems hell-bent on attacking his way from 7th place in GC into the top-3 standings.
“I lost a little time in the first week, but if my form stays the same now as the same as these days, I can try to go for the podium,” Pogačar told reporters on Monday.
Indeed, Pogačar was among the big GC losers on Friday’s seventh stage of the Tour de France, when Team Ineos split the main field in the gusting crosswinds on the run-in to Lavaur. Pogačar, Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), and Mikel Landa (Bahrain-McLaren) all lost 1:21 to Egan Bernal, Primož Roglič, and the other top contenders.
Pogačar said he won’t make the same mistake during the Tour’s second week, which features several flat and hilly stages through France’s Massif Central. The region is known for its gusting winds, and over the years it has battered Tour de France pelotons again and again. Pogačar said his UAE-Team Emirates are up for the challenge to contend with the winds.
“It will be a hard one in the winds, but we have good experienced riders,” Pogačar said. “We should be prepared for that. I hope it will not be that windy. Our road captain is [Marco] Marcato, and he knows the bunch well. I try to follow him, [Alexander] Kristoff is also good in this positioning. We have a strong team to be in the front when it’s necessary.”
The time loss on stage 7 set up Pogačar’s strategy for the race’s two Pyrenean stages, which was to attack relentlessly. On stages 8 and 9 he was the primary aggressor in the GC field, and his attack up the Col de Peyresourde dropped all of the major GC players and clawed back 39 seconds.
Then, on Sunday’s stage 9, Pogačar attacked up the Col de Marie-Blanque alongside Roglič, Landa, and Bernal, and then won the stage in a sprint.
With his impressive climbing, Pogačar appears destined to animate the race once it hits the Alps on stage 15. Pogačar said he has ridden some of the Alpine climbs used in this year’s race, while others will be new to him.
“I did stage 15 recon, that’s really hard, and I did Col de la Loze and la Planche des Belles-Filles,” he said. “Some are unknown to me, the great sport directors can tell me, and we know everything what is ahead of us.”
Pogačar’s impressive ride in the Pyrenees has caught the attention of GC riders and fans alike. Just 22, Pogačar is making his Tour de France debut one year after he was the revelation of the 2019 Vuelta a España. Last year Pogačar attacked his way onto the Vuelta’s final podium in the final week.
“It is similar, it’s still a grand tour, but the Tour is more stressed,” Pogačar said about the Vuelta. “I will not say it is harder, you feel more stress and chaos in the group, for the last kilometers, even before the final. The Tour is the biggest race ever, it’s amazing to be on the start.”
The pressure does not appear to be getting to the Slovenian. Some fans credit his aggressive riding to youthful exuberance. Pogačar said it’s a byproduct of the way he was raised back home in Slovenia.
“Stress is a big factor in cycling, we don’t know it, I can manage that quite good, thanks to my parents,” Pogačar said. “The next days, if you stress too much, then it can be really hard. I was raised like this, I try to keep it simple like my parents, I was raised by a nice family.”
If and when Pogačar attacks, perhaps we can thank his parents.