Tour de France: Four-way battle at the Tour – Pogacar following in Pantani’s footsteps

Tour de France: Four-way battle at the Tour – Pogacar following in Pantani’s footsteps
Tour de France: Four-way battle at the Tour – Pogacar following in Pantani’s footsteps

The 111th Tour de France will start on Saturday in Florence, Italy. The big four will meet for the first time. A German is expected to help superstar Tadej Pogacar to get yellow.

Superstar Tadej Pogacar had no time to waste. He had barely arrived in Florence when he herded his team, including the German helper Nils Politt, to Rimini to inspect the route. After all, the exceptional Slovenian talent has a big goal: Pogacar wants to be the first professional cyclist since Marco Pantani 26 years ago to win the double of the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia.

The fact that the 111th Tour de France, which begins in Italy on Saturday, will be the first major showdown between the Fantastic Four (Pogacar, defending champion Jonas Vingegaard, world champion Remco Evenepoel and former Giro winner Primoz Roglic), gives the ambitious project a special touch.

Politt, who has been riding in the Pogacar team for UAE since this season, is convinced that his captain will triumph: “He looks fit when I look at him. At the Giro he showed that he is in a different league,” the Cologne native told the German Press Agency. And Pogacar, who is starting his next mission in Italy just 34 days after his triumph at the Giro, immediately sent a warning to the competition: “I think it will be incredible. I have the impression that I have improved even more.”

Even better? With a lead of almost ten minutes and a total of six stage wins, the 25-year-old dominated the Giro in May, although his big rivals were missing. However, Pogacar had to fight a corona infection ten days before the Tour. “I have recovered well. Covid is no longer as serious as it was then. I already had the virus. The body gets used to it. It wasn’t that bad and passed quickly,” Pogacar said.

Question mark behind defending champion Vingegaard

There is also a question mark over the form of defending champion Vingegaard. He has not competed in a race since his serious fall at the Tour of the Basque Country on April 4, when the Dane suffered several broken ribs, a contused lung and a pneumothorax. “Standing on the starting line is already a victory. From now on, everything is a bonus,” said the Dane at a press conference in Florence on Thursday.

“It was about making it in time. My goal is to achieve the best possible result. Maybe I can improve over the course of the Tour,” said the 2022 and 2023 winner. The Vingegaard team is not at all happy that things are getting tough in the first week of the 3498.3-kilometer tour with difficult stages in Italy, the climb to the 2642-meter-high Col du Galibier, a difficult individual time trial and a gravel stage. “We would have preferred it to be gentler,” said team manager Merijn Zeeman: “We are fighting to ensure that everything is decided on the last day.”

Tour finale in Nice for the first time

On the last day, the Tour ends with an individual time trial from Monaco to Nice. This hasn’t happened since 1989, when Frenchman Laurent Fignon lost the overall victory by eight seconds in a heart-stopping finale against American Greg Lemond on the Champs Élysees. For the first time, the professional cyclists will have to do without a Tour finale in the French capital because of the upcoming Olympic Games.

Last year, Vingegaard reached Paris with a lead of 7:29 minutes. Last year, he suffered a mental breakdown in the time trial, Pogacar admitted. He was not at 100 percent after his fall in the spring. This time, the situation is reversed. So what pressure is Pogacar under, whom Jan Ullrich has already described as the “Eddy Merckx of our time”? “Diamonds are made under great pressure,” Pogacar jokingly told the French newspaper “L’Équipe”. The time has come to tackle the double.

Starting signal for Red Bull

One person who also has something against it is his compatriot Roglic. With the know-how of the new top sponsor Red Bull, which joined the German Bora-hansgrohe team and was introduced on Wednesday, the trauma of 2020 is to be overcome. “You can’t rewrite the results lists. Maybe there will be a rematch at some point. He doesn’t have much time left. In five years it will be too late. You can already say: now or never,” team boss Ralph Denk told dpa.

Four years ago, Roglic’s seemingly certain Tour victory was snatched away by Pogacar on the penultimate day. Now he is hoping to win in the blue jersey with the red bulls on his chest. “It’s a nice jersey to start the Tour in, but I hope to finish it with a yellow one,” said the 34-year-old at the presentation on Wednesday in Salzburg.

Evenepoel also dreams of yellow. The prodigy from Belgium has already achieved great success at a young age: road world champion and Vuelta winner in 2022, world time trial champion in 2023 and various classics victories. But is it enough for the 24-year-old to compete against the best of the best in the Tour? In the last few days he has lost extra weight, says Evenepoel.

When the stars of the industry duel, the eight German Tour starters will probably only play a supporting role. At best, a stage win is within the realm of possibility. Former Tour champion Ullrich gives them hope: “I believe that we can do this again this year in the Tour.” The last German stage victory was in 2021 by Politt. The Cologne native has other things in mind this year.

Source: Stern

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