Tadej Pogačar coy over Tour de France defense

Pogačar sees the proximity of the Olympic Games to the Tour as a complicating factor in assessing contenders for 2021.

Tadej Pogačar will race the 2021 Tour de France with the No. 1 on his back, but he’s reluctant to put himself at the top of the list of contenders.

The 2021 Tour is set for June 26-July 18, with the Tokyo Games starting less than one week later, beginning July 23. The proximity of the Tour peloton’s planned arrival in Paris and the start of the Games could prove pivotal in who will be racing for the yellow jersey, and who will just be tuning their motor for Tokyo.

“It’s a bit early to say who is the favorite to win the next Tour,” Pogačar told Marca this weekend. “We will have to see who rides it, but if the Olympic Games start a week later … then we can see that some will ride the Tour, others may not, others may ride the Tour as preparation. It will be a different year than usual. More normal than this year, but I think it is too early to say who will be the favorite for the Tour.”

Pogačar will be defending his Tour title on a parcours that pushes weight toward time trialing, with a total of 58 kilometers of racing against the clock. Although the 22-year-old’s Tour-winning time trial on the Planches des Belles-Filles proved he’s no slouch on a TT bike, Pogačar admitted he’d prefer to see more of the explosive summit finishes that he so excels at in the 2021 route, but isn’t going to lose sleep over it.

“Riders make the race tough,” Pogačar said when asked about the course. “It can be really tough if the riders decide to go super fast, but yeah, I like to have more mountain finishes. But I think we will have enough opportunities, in three weeks, to make a difference.”

Pogačar was the latest in the line of young stars to take the WorldTour by storm, following in the footsteps of Egan Bernal in 2019.

While Pogačar said “anything is possible” with regard to the prospect of Remco Evenepoel racing the Tour in his comeback from injury, the Slovenian sees veteran grand tour greats as more of a threat.

“I think that [Chris] Froome, as we have seen in La Vuelta, is getting more in tune,” he said. “He’s getting better and better. [Tom] Dumoulin also had a great season this year, so they will come back and may be even stronger on the bike than before.”