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2021 Tour de France route presents more challenges for Tadej Pogačar repeat

Mitchelton-Scott DS Matt White on Pogačar: ‘It won’t be easy for him to win 2021 Tour de France’

Backing up a Tour de France title with another yellow jersey is never easy. In fact, counting back to 2006, Chris Froome is the only rider who’s officially done it.

Will Tadej Pogačar, who barnstormed into the maillot jaune as a Tour rookie in 2020, follow in those footsteps?

At least one high-profile sport director says it won’t be easy.

Matt White, lead sport director at Mitchelton-Scott, said next year’s Tour route, featuring nearly 60km against the clock and fewer summit finales, could tilt the race toward a different style of rider.

“He’s obviously very talented, but looking at the route next year, it won’t be easy for him to win,” White told VeloNews. “Nearly 60km of time trials doesn’t suit him that much. On a flat time trial, Roglič could take a minute or more, and the likes of Geraint Thomas or Tom Dumoulin could take two minutes.

“He’s going to have his hands full next year to win again,” he said. “Of course, he’s also going to be around for a long time. He’s only just turned 21. He and Bernal are the big GC stars for the future.”

White’s comments come as major teams across the WorldTour begin preparations for the 2021 racing season.

Though the impacts of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic are already reaching into next season, teams are beginning the off-season work to map out respective racing calendars for the top stars of the elite men’s peloton.

White feels that the 60km against the clock in the 2021 Tour may affect Pogačar’s chances. Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images

UAE-Team Emirates officials have already confirmed that Pogačar will defend his yellow jersey despite seeing a course that is far from ideal for the explosive all-rounder. On paper, the relatively high number of kilometers against the clock — the most since 2013 and the first time since 2017 there are two time trials in the Tour — could count against Pogačar.

In 2020, White had a front-row view of Pogačar’s stunning victory.

Mitchelton-Scott controlled the yellow jersey with Adam Yates riding into the Pyrénées, and the British rider ended up ninth overall in Paris in his best Tour since fourth overall in 2016.

Like many, White said he didn’t expect to see Pogačar overtaking Primož Roglič in the final time trial at Planches de Belles Filles in the Tour’s penultimate stage. It appeared Roglič and Jumbo-Visma had everything under control.

“Pogačar rode smart and he had to, because he didn’t have a good team around him,” White said. “He rode off the coattails of Roglič and Jumbo-Visma, but honestly, I didn’t think he could do it.

“He lost time on the crosswinds stage [stage 7], and capitalized the day after in the Pyrénées with a ballsy attack,” White continued. “I never really saw him cracking Roglič, who never showed any weakness during the entire race. I didn’t think Pogačar would be able to take back that time in the TT. The podium? Yes, but I didn’t believe it would evolve the way it did.”

After Roglič widened his lead on the decisive summit finale at Col de la Loze, it appeared the Slovenian was poised for the yellow jersey.

Of course, another rider ended up winning Slovenia’s first Tour title when Pogačar upended Roglič in one of the Tour’s most remarkable time trial reversals since Greg LeMond overtook Laurent Fignon in 1989.

“I was following Adam and we were only 15 minutes in front of those guys, and I was concentrating on our ride,” White said. “I heard on the radio that Roglič was losing time, and when we got to the car park, I turned on the TV and saw it was going to be close. I was a bit stunned at the time. I didn’t think it was going to be possible, and Roglič rode to fifth on the stage. It’s not like he rode a stinker.”

For next year, White and the team will be battling the likes of Bernal, Pogačar and the other top riders across the grand tours and the calendar’s other major dates.

For 2021, the team lost Adam Yates, who signed with Ineos Grenadiers, but retains Vuelta a España winner Simon Yates, one of only a handful of active riders in the peloton who’ve won a grand tour.

Yates and Esteban Chaves will lead in the grand tours, while a fleet of younger riders will be seeing more chances. Michael Matthews also returns to the fold following three seasons at Sunweb.

“We are locked and loaded for 2021,” White said. “Four came in, four left, and one retired. So we have a strong core for next season.”