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Pogačar safely defended his 39-second lead after solid work among the team in the climbing stage across the high Alps in what was a preview of what lies ahead next week.
“You could see that we were pulling in the front. We were super strong,” he said. “We are one guy down already, so have one less, so I think we have the strongest team at this Tour de France.
“We now only have seven guys, but I am super happy and super proud.”
Brandon McNulty slipped into the day’s main breakaway to release the pressure, and then the likes of George Bennett and Rafal Majka led the pace over the day’s final first-category climb.
Despite the exit of one of his teammates due to a COVID control, Pogačar isn’t too worried going into more rest-day health controls that could see more riders leave the race.
“We tested as a team two days ago, and we had to pull out Vegard [Stake Laengen],” he said. “We keep the fingers crossed for the next test. We take very serious this virus, and we take precautions. We have our own rooms, and we are quite isolated. I hope that most of the bunch will stay safe.”
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The two-time Tour winner chipped away again Sunday, gaining a few more seconds on his direct rivals but he couldn’t shake Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma).
“If there is a chance to take the seconds why not?” he said. “We were controlling really good and to not to be surprised by anything, I did my sprint earlier. It was a good way to get seconds.”
The Dane jumped on his wheel in the late-stage surge and he is emerging as Pogačar’s most dangerous rival.
“He is really strong and showed great form,” he said. “I think he’s going to be a real battle between me and him, and but also the other guys who are not so far. It’s still not big enough gaps to be safe.”
Preparing for first climb on Alpe d’Huez
Pogačar will use Monday’s rest to prepare for the onslaught in the Alps. The coming days sees just the second Tour arrival at the Granon climb and Thursday finishes atop Alpe d’Huez on France’s Bastille Day.
“They are both brutal,” Pogačar said. “Granon is a brutal climb, and the Galibier it is so long and so high. Alpe d’Huez is so steep and long, so both stages are going to be hard. I think the Alpe d’Huez stage is the queen stage of this Tour de France.”
Pogačar has never raced up the famous 21 lacets of Alpe d’Huez. One can imagine it’s another stage he has circled on his calendar.