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Pogačar faced a variety of questions during Monday’s rest-day press teleconference, and one question concerned the believability of his progress at this year’s race — namely, how Pogačar could silence those who doubt that he is racing clean.
“I think we have many controls to prove them wrong,” Pogačar said. “I know, for example, that yesterday, I had three controls in one day – two before the stage and one after. So I think that gives enough weight to prove them wrong.”
Whether Pogačar’s words provided adequate answers to his detractors is yet to be seen.
Questions about doping are common at the Tour de France, and a dominant leader is often asked to prove the validity of his performance. During the Tour’s first rest-day press conference in 2014 Vincenzo Nibali was asked about doping, and his connection to then Astana team manager, convicted doper Alexander Vinokourov. A year later, Chris Froome faced similar questions after he seized the yellow jersey twice in the first week, and then crushed his nearest opponents on the stage 10 summit finish to La Pierre-Saint Martin.
In 2019 Patrick Lefevere, manager of Deceuninck-Quick-Step, chirped back at journalists who asked whether fans could believe in the eye-popping ride of his young star, Julian Alaphilippe, after Alaphilippe won two stages and refused to relinquish the yellow jersey.
“Someone who is tested every evening, and who often does blood tests in the morning… if someone thinks he’s suspicious, that says a lot about the people who are saying that,” Lefevere said at the time. “It means their intelligence is lower than their feet, and certainly not in their head.”
As the defending champion, Pogačar has dominated the opening week of the race. He’s won one stage and he currently holds the yellow jersey by 2:01 over Australian Ben O’Connor (AG2R-Citröen), even though his margin has felt greater at times. Pogačar has attacked relentlessly in the Alps, dropping his top rivals again and again.
Pogačar’s press conference on Monday included dozens of members of the international press, as well as reporters and media outlets from Slovenia, and the conference itself was split between English and Slovenian.
Pogačar said that the opening crashes had obviously impacted the dynamics of the race, and cost his rivals plenty of energy and time. Meanwhile, he felt he made it through the calamitous opening week unscathed.
He said he was not surprised by his own performance up to this point in the race.
“I’m pretty happy with how my shape is,” he said. “I did expect something like this [from] my numbers. But this Tour has been really difficult from the start with a lot of crashes and for sure it affected a lot of riders. That also cost them a lot of energy probably. I was almost untouched, I just had one crash, really small, so it didn’t affect me.”
He also said he’s felt motivated to prove himself as a top Tour de France champion and to show that his victory in 2020 was not simply the result of one good individual time trial.
“Really one of the biggest motivations was to show it was not a one-time thing to win the Tour just based on one time trial,” Pogačar said. “I wanted to be good again this year. All the race I’m motivated to prove myself and show the world what I can do.”