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Tadej Pogačar hopes to ‘show what he can do’ at dream Tour debut

Young Slovenian quells hype but refuses to rule himself out ahead of first-ever Tour de France appearance.

Slovenian standout Tadej Pogačar makes no doubt about it — this year’s Tour de France is a key objective.

The 21-year-old won three stages in the Vuelta a España and finished on the podium in his grand tour debut in his rookie season in 2019. He will be starting this year’s Tour with his eyes wide open and ready to race.

“I’m going firstly to learn,” he said via a video conference Monday. “This will be my first Tour de France and only my second grand tour. But if I have a chance to show what I can do, I will.”

For Pogačar, simply being at the start of the Tour on August 29 will be a dream come true. He will be racing at the head of UAE-Team Emirates alongside designated captain Fabio Aru.

“I remember seeing it as a kid on television growing up in Slovenia,” he said. “I didn’t really know what cycling was. I don’t remember who were the riders. But the crowds along the roadside were just incredible. The Tour de France is the biggest race. Just to be there is something special.”

But Pogačar knows that after his stellar Vuelta a España last year, his presence at the Tour will not go unnoticed, and in the eyes of many, he is already a strong outsider, if not a quiet favorite. After all, no one really knows just how good he is. However, he is cautious to make any predictions.

“We will be prepared to do everything we can to win stages or get the yellow jersey,” he said. “But I don’t want to promise anything. I want to be in the best shape as possible. Winning three stages and finishing on the podium on the Vuelta last year was totally unexpected. But I don’t think I can do that in the Tour again.”

Pogačar says he is focusing on no particular stage, but simply on racing hard and aggressively every day.

“I am looking at all 21 stages. Every day in the Tour is going to be important,” Pogačar said. “The first stages already are going to be difficult. You can lose the Tour almost every day, but you can also win it almost every day. I don’t think any day will really be harder than other. It’s just going to be hard racing every day.”

In addition, the Tour rookie understands that this year’s Tour, coming so late in the season as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, will be unlike any other.

“It will be strange coming into the Tour with such little racing,” he said. “It’s going to be weird. But that will be the same for everyone.”

After the Tour, the Slovenian is also eyeing the world championships in Switzerland, and, having raced the Ardennes classics in 2019, is also considering a stab at the Tour of Flanders this fall.

“I really like Belgium, it’s a nice country with really cool races,” he said. “I hope to start there [at Flanders] and have fun! Flanders is good for experience. It is a different style of racing, different roads etc. It is not 100 percent sure that I will do it, but it is a chance to get good experience and help the team.”

But mostly, he has his eyes on the Tour. And while he has no pressure to perform, he plans on being a player. “I can’t wait to be there. It’s just a dream come true.”