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Tour de France

Tadej Pogačar ‘looking forward’ to Tour de France cobbles stage

The two-time defending champion says he's not thinking about making history as he looks to take his third straight overall win.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark (VN) — Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) says that he’s looking forward to, rather than scared of, the Tour de France’s big cobbled stage next week.

The Tour will visit the pavé for the first time since 2018 on stage 5 with nearly 20 kilometers of the rough stones facing the riders. It’s a stage that could well end the GC hopes of some riders but the two-time defending champion does not view it with trepidation.

Pogačar has tested himself on the cobbles this year with rides at Dwars door Vlaanderen and the Tour of Flanders, where he finished fourth. The pavé of Belgium is a different prospect from what is to come in Northern France, but Pogačar believes his team can help him through it.

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“I think we have a really, really strong team here and that we shouldn’t be worried,” Pogačar said during a press conference, flanked by two of his key helper in Mikkel Bjerg and Rafał Majka. “We just need to fight for the front, and not stress too much because we just trust ourselves, and I trust them so I’m actually quite looking forward to it.”

“It’s a tricky [first] week. There are a lot of flat parts with some possible crosswind, cobbles, and bridges, but as a team, we are really strong together as a unit and we don’t need to be aggressive or defensive. We just do our own thing, we go in the front and fight for positions and stuff like that and I think that we are ready for that. We shouldn’t be worried.”

The Slovenian will have to face the cobbles without trusted classics man Matteo Trentin, who had to leave the race before it even began after testing positive for COVID-19 earlier this week. Marc Hirschi is stepping in to replace him and, fortunately for the rest of the squad, they hadn’t mixed with Trentin prior to his positive test.

“We were unlucky to lose Matteo, but he arrived late the night before and he was not in close contact with any of the riders. So, you could say that actually, we are lucky that he didn’t have dinner with us the night before,” Bjerg said. “He didn’t have contact with us. Mark is coming now and we are confident that that yeah, that he can support the team in a good way.”

Making history

Pogačar comes into this year’s Tour de France as a two-time defending champion following his surprise victory in 2020 and his dominant win in 2021. If he were to claim victory again, he would become the first rider since Miguel Indurain in 1993 to win his first three titles consecutively and only the seventh rider in history to win three in a row.

At 23, he would also become by far the youngest rider to have ever achieved that statistic. Making history doesn’t overly interest Pogačar and it’s all about enjoying his time on the bike.

“I don’t think about the history that much, almost nothing, because here we have such things going on in the present life and I just try to enjoy the moment, have fun on the bike, and race on bikes around the world. We see what this brings me,” Pogačar said.

Pogačar has all the pressure on his shoulders going into the Tour de France as the overwhelming favorite, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at him.

During his 30-minute press conference with Bjerg and Majka, he laughed and joked with his teammates. Indeed, he seemed completely relaxed.

“I’m excited to start again the Tour. Like any other race, I want to do my best here. And here is the biggest race in the calendar, so I’m pretty happy to start and that we can fight for the title,” he said.

“We do our own thing. We have a strong team here and there the guys that I can trust, like Mikkel and Rafal, next week, and we are ready for all the attacks and everything. And we are fully motivated, then if we just stick together through all the three weeks, we should be fine.”

Over the last three years, Pogačar has hardly put a foot wrong and he’s enjoyed a strong 2022 campaign so far with wins at Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico, and the recent Tour of Slovenia.

With each passing race, Pogačar becomes increasingly assured in his own capabilities, but there’s an element of luck in cycling that neither he nor his rivals can control.

“I get more confidence through the years more experience, the training went well, and the data is good, and that’s what builds confidence, but you still never know what happens in the race,” Pogačar said. “You can have one bad day. You can be better than last year but if you have one bad day then it doesn’t matter. We just go day by day and we hope that we have good legs every day.”