Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Emirates) roared out of the Pyrénées with a target on his back.
With a stage victory and a surge on GC to move into seventh overall at 44 seconds back at the halfway point of the Tour de France, you’d think that team management would be tickled pink.
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They are, but UAE-Emirates sport directors would have preferred it if their exuberant 21-year-old would have raced more discreetly.
“I did tell him not to attack as a reaction to Friday,” said UAE-Emirates sport director Allan Peiper.
Not attack? Yes, that’s correct.
“We knew he had good legs, and we knew he was really good,” Peiper said Tuesday. “Now everyone knows.”
Instead of being a stealth agent in the bunch, Pogačar is now viewed as the strongest climber in the race.
That means everyone will be marking his wheel, if they can. And that means no one will dare give him too much leash.
Pogačar has been the revelation of the Tour. After losing more than a minute in the crosswinds Friday, Pogačar attacked furiously on the Col de Peyresourde to gain back time Saturday. The 21-year-old hit the repeat button Sunday, surging over the Marie-Blanque, before winning a five-up sprint to claim his first Tour stage victory.
That’s all fine and good, but Peiper wonders if those invaluable watts might have been better spent on even more decisive terrain.
“It would have been better if had happened on a more decisive climb, and he could have gained more time,” Peiper said Tuesday morning. “Already Sunday they were not giving much room, and that’s not going to happen again unless he is the absolute strongest.”
Those comments reveal how much confidence UAE-Emirates have in their Tour de France rookie. In the high-stakes game of the Tour de France, picking the right moment to attack can sometimes be the difference for a podium spot in Paris.
Peiper’s comments also reveal that the team was waiting to spring their surprise on the Tour peloton, but Pogačar simply couldn’t wait to attack.
“OK, it is what it is,” Peiper said. “He’s made a good rebound taking time back Saturday and Sunday. All in and all, it’s a good weekend.”
Peiper wonders if Pogačar had kept his powder dry, remained nondescript in the bunch without giving too much away, and saved his legs to uncork a massive attack on more favorable terrain, such as the Grand Colombier looming Sunday, that Pogačar could have come away with even more.
After Pogačar’s spectacular racing over the weekend, the cat is clearly out of the bag