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Tour de France

Tour de France daily digest: Tadej Pogačar goes on the defensive

We've seen Tadej Pogačar attack and attack again. Now, we get to see Pogačar play defense at the Tour de France. Is he up to the challenge?

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What image comes to mind when you think of Tadej Pogačar?

Do you envision Pogačar accelerating up La Planche des Belles Filles in his white skinsuit, time trial helmet cocked backwards, to seize the 2020 Tour de France overall? Do you picture him flying up and over the Col du Peyresourde to distance his rivals last year? Or do you simply picture Pogačar doing what he seems to do so effortlessly on a bicycle — attack! attack! attack!

Guess what? You’re about to see a new side of Tadej Pogačar in the coming weeks. You’re going to see him play the role of stoic defender of the Tour de France’s yellow jersey. That’s right, we’ve seen Pogačar the agent of chaos at grand tours. Now, we will see him play the role of guardian, for two and a half weeks.

Yeah, it’s going to be weird — almost as weird as his dance moves.

The big story from Wednesday’s stage 5 individual time trial was just how strong Pogačar was compared to his closest GC rivals. Sure, he’s technically in second place on GC, but you can expect Pogačar to take yellow either on stage 7 or stage 8. Check out Jim Cotton’s analysis of the GC, and his virtual standings that encompass the real GC leaders for each team. Pogačar has 1:21 on Rigoberto Uran and 1:36 on Richard Carapaz. Poor Primoz Roglic is already 1:40 behind his countryman, and Geraint Thomas is a further six seconds back.

What does this mean? All of these GC rivals must now mount major offensives in the Alps and then the Pyrenees if they hope to dislodge Pogačar from the lead. They are the ones who must now attack! attack! attack!

And this means that Pogačar is going to have to swat them all away like flies, once they begin to gang-up on him. And this is a role that he’s never occupied in his short yet successful grand tour career.

Pogačar’s raced two grand tours, and in both of them, he was in one mode for the entire race — attack mode. How will he function as the guy who chases down attacks and then sits up? Will he allow some riders to go up the road? Or will he try to chase down everything on the road?

We don’t know. I cannot wait to see how he plays defense.

His team will also need to pivot to defense-mode. And based on this year’s UAE Team Emirates lineup, I think they will do this with ease.

Pogačar has a lineup of rouleurs and top climbers to protect him this year, with Scandinavians Stake Laengen Vegard and Mikkel Bjerg providing the horsepower for the flats. On paper, Rui Costa and Brandon McNulty will be there for the foothills and mid-sized climbs, along with Marc Hirschi. That leaves Davide Formolo and new recruit Rafal Majka for the high mountains.

On paper, it’s a pretty good squad. It’s no Ineos Grenadiers or Jumbo Visma, but for the purposes of defending the crown, UAE Team Emirates could do a lot worse.

Still, at some point, it’s going to come down to Pogačar’s legs and racing intellect. Sorry, UAE-Team Emirates, you are no Team Sky in its prime, capable of crushing the entire peloton under your boots.

And while Pogačar is undoubtedly strong, I don’t know if he has the oomph in his legs to fight off Roglič, Carapaž, Nairo Quintana, Richie Porte, and Geraint Thomas all at the same time. So, that means Pogačar will need to act like so many Tour champions before him — he will need to choose his battles and allow some attacks to go.

We’ve seen Tadej Pogačar the wrecking ball. I cannot wait to see Pogačar the chess player.

Stage 5 in social media

Wednesday was pretty weird in the wacky world of bike Twitter.

We kicked things off with this stunning video from Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank of their multi-faceted star Emily Newsom (read my profile of her here) playing the piano. This video won bike internet by a wide margin.

Then, we had Paris-Roubaix winner Magnus Backstedt hawking a BMW.

We also saw Thomas De Gendt staring into his crystal ball to prognosticate the future of pro cycling. I think De Gendt the soothsayer is my second-favorite Thomas De Gendt (breakaway guy is still No. 1).

Our friends at Cycling Memes had some time trial memes that were so brilliantly bad they were amazing.

And finally, our very own Sadhbh O’Shea continued her role as Tour de France Twitter champion with this gem.

Keep up the good work, everyone.