Road

‘COVID winter’ could be blessing in disguise for Tadej Pogačar

UAE-Team Emirates DS: ‘Tadej is having the most normal off-season of a Tour de France winner in a very long time.’

Tadej Pogačar is enjoying some downtime following his life-changing Tour de France-winning ride this summer.

Just as much of Europe is in the clutches of another series of travel restrictions and health measures, Pogačar’s post-Tour off-season is going to be quieter than usual.

In a normal year, a recently-crowned Tour winner is so busy with critériums, celebratory dinners, sponsor obligations, media demands, and the occasional TV chat show that getting back into shape for a title defense is often half the battle.

UAE-Team Emirates says the latest round of restrictions related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic might have a silver lining for the young Tour champion.

“Coronavirus and the lockdown is affecting our society and lifestyle, but when it comes to Tadej, it could be a bit of a blessing,” sport director Allan Peiper told VeloNews.

“He cannot do any of the stuff that Tour de France winners are expected and asked to do,” Peiper said in a telephone interview. “He is not flying all over the world, meeting with sponsors, having dinners and award nights. In that sense, Tadej is having the most normal off-season of a Tour de France winner in a very long time, which could be a benefit.”

A quiet off-season, even if it’s forced by a world pandemic, could help Pogačar in more ways than expected going into 2021.

Without the endless string of obligations, Peiper said Pogačar will have time to properly recover both physically as well as psychologically in the off-season before going into the decisive run-up to a title defense.

Since Chris Froome’s last win in 2017, the Tour has seen a pair of one-off winners — at least so far — with Geraint Thomas in 2018 and Egan Bernal in 2019. The peloton is in a generational shift, with several younger riders jostling for position to become the next multi-Tour winner.

A quiet winter will only help Pogačar to become accustomed to the pressure and expectations that come with being a defending Tour champion.

It’s assumed that Pogačar will defend his title next July, but Peiper said the team has yet to sketch out its 2021 racing calendar and will wait for the official routes of the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España before making any final decisions on Pogačar’s schedule.

What the team has seen so far for the 2021 Tour de France route — hailed by many as an old-school Tour route with more kilometers of time trialing and less climbing — means that it will be a very different race for Pogačar than the climber-friendly route in 2020.

“It was nearly an ideal course for Tadej this year, with the final time trial, and there was so much climbing right out of Nice,” Peiper said. “Next year is a more traditional Tour de France. That first week in Brittany is very stressful, and then there are two flat time trials.

“That could favor guys like ‘Froomey’ or [Tom] Dumoulin, but I do not see the time trials as a detriment for Tadej,” Peiper continued. “The time trials will be decisive because there are not that many chances to make a clear difference with only three mountaintop finishes.”

Peiper was a key figure in Pogačar’s surprise Tour debut, and played an important role as part of the sport director’s team at UAE-Team Emirates. The Australian ex-pro has worked with several other top pros since he moved into the sport director’s role, but said Pogačar is uniquely mature for his age.

Despite such a dramatic debut Tour victory, Peiper refuses to answer the question of how more yellow jerseys the young Slovenian might win in the coming years.

“I will never say that. When [Jan] Ullrich won his first Tour, everyone said he was going to win seven Tours, and he didn’t win again,” Peiper said. “People have asked me that, and I said, why even talk about this? Let’s just celebrate how Tadej won the Tour de France in such a spectacular way.”

Pogačar has a few more weeks of downtime to savor his dramatic Tour de France victory before buckling down with a return to serious training ahead of the 2021 season.

With travel restrictions and other mitigation efforts, it’s going to be a very quiet off-season for the newly crowned Tour winner. That could be bad news for anyone trying to beat him at the 2021 Tour.