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Tour de France

Tadej Pogačar: ‘COVID is not my rival’ at Tour de France

Pogačar shook off an early crash that sent Kevin Vermaerke home and put Nairo Quintana and others to the ground.

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (VN) – Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) brushed off a spill early in Saturday’s stage to kick to third in an uphill bunch sprint on a day when COVID-19 saw one of his teammates leave the Tour de France.

With the specter of COVID remaining high, some are wondering if the virus could be the otherwise untouchable Pogačar’s most dangerous rival.

“COVID is not a rival, it’s just a virus that can affect things. It can ruin all the Tour but I think the rivals are from the other team from Jumbo, Ineos, others,” Pogačar said.

He admitted the large crowds along the roads and at the starts and finishes are putting everyone on edge.

“Every day on the road on the climbs there are so many people screaming at you, cheering, which I like, but it increases possibility you get infected by viruses,” he said. “I hope this was it. I hope that we don’t go home because of it and we will stay safe until the end.”

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Pogačar lost a teammate to COVID on Saturday when Vegard Stake Laengen was forced to leave the race, the first rider hit by COVID so far for UAE Team Emirates.

“We lost Laengen today, he was the big guy of the team, he was really strong, in good shape, pulling in the flat, climb, everywhere,” he said. “He’s like a train in the team and it’s going to be hard without him. I hope we can manage with the seven riders to make it to Paris.”

Pogačar shook off an early crash that sent Kevin Vermaerke (Team DSM) home and put Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic) and others to the ground.

“I was in the middle of the crash too. I hit the ground but not so much, it was one of the softest crashes I’ve ever experienced,” he said.  “It was for me nothing bad, we came back quite fast and for me it was OK.”

Pogačar even showed off his sprinting skills again. After winning Thursday, he fell just short of making it a Tour de France hat trick, and finished third.

“I always like sprinting, when I was younger I was the smallest and almost always last,” he said. “I’m really happy that now at least when it’s going up 4K or 5K I can still do a solid sprint in the end. But still not as close as Matthews and Van Aert.”

Masks on as COVID-19 remains a risk. (Photo: MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images)