By Ian Parker, PA
Tadej Pogacar can join some elite clubs at the Tour de France over the next few weeks but a man still eligible for the young rider’s classification has no time to think about his place in history.
Pogacar, still only 23, is seeking to become only the ninth man to win three or more Tours, and only the seventh to win three in a row. Given the 2020 Tour was delayed until late in the year due to Covid-19, his would also be the quickest hat-trick ever scored if he is wearing yellow in Paris on July 24.
Such achievements would put Pogacar’s name alongside some of the greats in Tour history – five-time winners Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain among them – but the Slovenian will save such thoughts for another day.
“I don’t think about history that much, almost nothing,” he said. “We have so many things going on in present life. I just try to enjoy the moment, have fun on the bike, race around the world and we’ll see what this brings me.”
What it has brought him in his short career so far is success upon success. The UAE Team Emirates rider has won eight of the last nine stage races he has started, a run that includes the last two Tours, and 11 of the 18 he has ever contested.
But it is notable that the only blip in that recent run was his third place at the Tour of the Basque Country last year, a race won by Primoz Roglic.
Roglic crashed out of last year’s Tour, the only other time the two Slovenians have faced each other in a stage race since Roglic surrendered yellow to Pogacar on the penultimate day of the 2020 Tour.
Roglic’s crash denied fans what should have been an enthralling battle for yellow 12 months ago, one which will hopefully play out over the next three weeks.
“For sure, I think everyone that competes in cycling, or in any sport, everyone wants all their competition to be at their best with no bad luck,” Pogacar said. “I hope we can have a great battle in the climbs, all the way to the Champs-Elysees.
“I want everyone to be safe and in their best shape so there are no unanswered questions on the last day.”
But the scary thing for Roglic and everyone else is that Pogacar, who comes into the Tour on the back of victories at the UAE Tour, Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of Slovenia already this season, said he is feeling better than he did before last year’s Tour.
“I get more confidence through the years, more experience,” he said. “Training has gone well, the data is good. That’s what builds confidence.
Unfortunately Matteo Trentin tested positive for Covid-19 and won't start this years Tour de France.
Though disappointed he feels well and is not displaying any symptoms at this point.
Marc Hirschi will step-up to take his place in the team. #letourdk #letour pic.twitter.com/8VbhcIIPk3
— @UAE-TeamEmirates (@TeamEmiratesUAE) June 29, 2022
“But you still never know what will happen in the race. You can have one bad day. Even if the legs are better than last year, if you have one super-bad day it doesn’t matter.”
If not Roglic, perhaps the main thing that might stop Pogacar this year is the threat posed by the latest wave of Covid-19, which has already forced a number of riders out of the race ahead of Friday’s opening time trial in Copenhagen.
On Thursday Daryl Impey and and Bryan Coquard were added to that list, although Bob Jungels was cleared to race after doctors determined he was “not contagious”. Pogacar’s own team-mate Matteo Trentin had to withdraw due to the virus on Wednesday.
“It is a worry in the peloton,” Pogacar said. “I just hope that now we are here we stay in the bubbles as much as possible and we survive without any further positive Covid tests.”