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Tour de France

Tadej Pogačar defends his team as firmly as he defends yellow

Pogačar bats aways suggestions his UAE Team Emirates teammates are not up to the challenge of defending yellow jersey.

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TIGNES, France (VN) — Everyone keeps saying that Tadej Pogačar’s only weakness is his team at the Tour de France.

It’s making him mad.

The Slovenian dominated in his first day in yellow in Sunday’s rainy and cold stage high in the French Alps to carry what could be an insurmountable gap to his direct general classification rivals into Monday’s first rest day.

And some say the only thing that could derail the “Pogačar Express” is if the wheels come off UAE Team Emirates in the second half of the race.

Moments after tightening his grip on yellow, Pogačar just as staunchly defended his teammates.

“I don’t know why everyone keeps saying the UAE team is bad and we don’t have things under control, but who is stronger than us?” Pogačar said. “We are one of the strongest teams here for sure. The guys do a fantastic job every day and I’m in the leader’s jersey.”

Also read: Tadej Pogačar stamps authority on race

Pogačar’s full-throated defense of his teammates comes after UAE Team Emirates rode with steely resolve and unity across horrendous racing conditions Sunday that featured the 2021 Tour’s first hors-categorie climb.

With wind, rain and cold putting everyone under pressure high in the French Alps, UAE Emirates rode with confidence. It put Marc Hirshi, Davide Formolo, Brandon McNulty and Mikkel Bjerg at the front on a pace-line that kept everyone in order behind them.

McNulty slid into a ditch, but was able to finish the stage and did not appear seriously injured. UAE’s first day defending the yellow jersey was otherwise flawless.

“If it’s going to be different in the next two weeks, but for now from day one we’re one of the strongest teams for sure,” Pogačar said.

Comments Saturday from Ineos Grenadiers boss Dave Brailsford that the Tour is far from over seemed laced with double meaning, hinting that the experienced British team would be putting Pogačar and his team under pressure.

Ineos Grenadiers certainly lived up to the promise to keep fighting.

The team rode in the unfamiliar position behind the yellow jersey of a rival, but moved to the fore on the final climb toward the Tignes summit.

Also read: Brandon McNulty and his fast-track to the Tour de France

In a similar repeat to what unfolded Saturday, Ineos Grenadiers tried in vain to run up the speed to attack Pogačar. Richard Carapaz surged clear of the dwindling GC bunch, only to see Pogačar come over the top.

He padded his lead by another half-minute to Carapaz, though stage-winner Ben O’Connor (Ag2r-Citroën) climbed into second overall with his stage heroics, and the Australian even rode into the virtual yellow jersey until the closing accelerations.

“I was thinking it might not be the worst thing to lose yellow. I did a small attack in the end, and it was all in a good place. It was amazing what Ben O’Connor did today, and now [Ineos] wanted to try to make the race. It was a hard day, and super-demanding weather, not super-high watts all day,” Pogačar said. “They wanted to race, Carapaz is going good, and in the end, they tried, and I expected that.

“I did my best to counter-attack, because if I do not try it, everyone will attack, and maybe I will be trouble,” he said. “But in the end, I was OK.”

When a rider moves into the yellow jersey, a team always rises to the challenge.

So far, Pogačar has avoided the pitfalls, crashes, splits and other mishaps that have marred many of his rivals.

It’s obvious whom Pogačar thanks for his good luck — his teammates.