Pogacar top contender, but Roglic has slight edge, says two-time winner Alberto Contador-Sports News , Justnewsday

By | June 26, 2021

Pogacar top contender, but Roglic has slight edge, says two-time winner Alberto Contador-Sports News , Justnewsday

The 108the edition of Tour de France (TDF) kicks off on 26 June with 21 gruelling stages designed to test the 23 teams and over 180 drivers in the fray. The race will begin at Brest, Brittany, and will include two individual time trials, a double-stage challenge at Mont Ventoux, before culminating on the Champs Elysees in Paris on 18 July.

The 108th edition of Tour de France (TDF) kicks off on 26 June with 21 gruelling stages designed to test the 23 teams and over 180 drivers in the fray. The race will begin at Brest, Brittany and will include two individual time trials, a double-stage challenge at Mont Ventoux, before culminating on the Champs Elysees in Paris on 18 July.

Ahead of the Tour, Justnewsday caught up with double Tour de France winner (2007, 2009) Alberto Contador. Excerpts from the interview:

Team Emirates’ Tadej Pogacar had a remarkable Tour de France debut last year as he ended up winning the race in a thrilling showdown with fellow Slovenian Primoz Roglic. How easy or difficult it will be for Pogacar to retain his title?

Pogacar is certainly one of the main favourites. I think the other teams see that this year Pogacar comes with a very compact block and they know that it will not be easy. In each of the last races, we see INEOS and Jumbo among the most favoured teams but I think this year, UAE Team Emirates comes with strength and with Pogacar at the head.

We shouldn’t be too hasty and time will tell, but Pogacar has incredible quality and I think he will be one of the great figures of the next few years in this sport. He shows in every race he takes part that he has extraordinary potential and that he is a modern cyclist with almost no fissures, which makes it very difficult for the rest of the rivals to confront him directly and not suffer in the attempt.

Pogacar reaffirms, even more, his way of racing to consolidate himself as the extraordinary cyclist that he is. Having a solid team with him will be very good for him to make demands on INEOS and Jumbo.

Do you see Pogacar versus Roglic picking up from where they left last year where they did a one-two? Your thoughts on their duel?

I think the duel for sure will be between the two of them. I cannot predict who may be the third to accompany them, but I am sure that the battle this year will be between Pogacar and Roglic. Last year we saw that the race was decided by details, and with two cyclists as important as them, I think the same will happen this year. I guess I think like most of us who love this sport. Roglic, Pogacar and the INEOS are going to fight for the podium. If I had to choose one of them to win, I think I’d say Roglic, but I don’t think he’ll have much of an advantage over the others because I see a very evenly matched Tour de France. The main thing to always keep in mind is to concentrate on the moment of the season that each rider is in. There are times of the year when you have to take more care of yourself and others when you can be flexible, but in the Tour de France, there can’t be a single moment of weakness. The key is perseverance and sacrifice day after day.

It is difficult to predict because we are talking about the most important cycling race in the world and there are too many top cyclists who can win it. In fact, we have examples of cyclists who have won the Tour de France or La Vuelta and have not returned to that top level. It is important to see every year the efforts of the favourites and how difficult it is for them to hold on and compete until the end to understand the difficulty of the Tour de France.

UK’s INEOS Grenadiers would like to make amends after a rather disappointing 2020, and they have a stunning quartet of Geraint Thomas, Richard Carapaz, Tao Geoghegan Hart and Richie Porte at their disposal. However, there still seems to be confusion over their lead riders. Who do you think should assume that role?

They must think through the strengths and weaknesses of each of their riders to maximise their performance and establish a coherent tactic to choose a clear leader. In the end, this is common for every team when selecting their calendars. The ultimate success of the team will depend on good decisions before and during the race.

To be honest, I would say that either Thomas or good Tao should be the INEOS leader options. Either would be the logical choice to go for a clear leader, but it’s true that Carapaz or Porte can also give a leader level but I think the logical choice would be between Tao and Thomas.

INEOS has reinvented itself and is becoming more diversified in the decisions they make. Before, INEOS only thought about Froome and now let’s say they have opened their minds and they have several fronts open. They will be keeping a close eye on Jumbo and of course Pogacar.

I would be surprised if they didn’t choose a clear leader even if they attacked as a block. It’s very risky to go into the Tour de France without one or two leaders at the most and during the race the team itself chooses between one or the other.

This time, TDF will have two individual time trial stages, instead of just one as was the case last year. How will that impact the race in general and Pogacar’s chances in particular?

The classification in the time trials this year is going to influence a lot. In addition, the weather will be essential to understand the development that the race will have this year because many ends of the stage are different from what we are used to. Each cyclist is different and we could already see him last year competing on different dates than usual. A Tour de France with heat and sun is not the same as a Tour de France with rain or wind.

Two time trials will do a lot of damage to those riders who have moments of doubt because this year’s routes can tip the balance in a matter of seconds or minutes that are very difficult to recover. Thomas, Roglic or Pogacar will have to be at their 100 percent in these two stages in order not to lose important time in the general classification.

It’s true that in recent years we haven’t enjoyed many time trials. They are very interesting stages in which we see important things from the favourites in different circumstances to those of every normal stage or mountain stage. In any case, I’m glad that this year we’ll have two of these stages because I’m sure we’re going to enjoy them a lot.

I think the time trials demand you to be at your 100 percent in every stage of the Tour de France because it’s easy to lose important time at key moments of the route. Roglic is a master and I’m sure he’s the first to know that he has to be at his best because Pogacar and the others will be watching his every move.

As for the routes in general, I think this year’s route is different because in recent years, some of the routes seemed to be too simple and the race itself could seem boring. The Tour de France has always been about adrenaline and excitement and I think that has been lost a little bit in some of the recent editions. So I hope that with this year’s changes we will all enjoy the thrill of the best race in the world.

How much of an impact, if any, will COVID19 have on the preparations of cyclists going into this edition of TDF?

I don’t think there is a big difference in this year’s edition. In 2020, of course, it had its influence, starting with the race at another time of the year. But this year I do not think that COVID influences much beyond the fact that a cyclist is vaccinated.

Tour de France is also a giant mental challenge, apart from the obvious physical examination of the cyclists. Could you elaborate on the mental side of the sport?

The main thing to always keep in mind is to concentrate on the moment of the season that each rider is in. There are times of the year when you have to take more care of yourself and others when you can be flexible, but in the Tour de France, there can’t be a single moment of weakness. The key is perseverance and sacrifice day after day.

It’s about the combination of both parts. The perfect balance between physical training to be in optimal conditions to compete and the mental stability to face a challenge like the Tour de France. Cycling is a very tough sport, very demanding and often very cruel. I think that if the mental aspect is well taken care of, any cyclist can bring out the best physical version of himself. On the other hand, if we only talk about good physical condition, it is difficult for a mentally weak cyclist to become a champion.

I think I would say that what makes it so difficult and so special is all the magic that surrounds the race. The atmosphere and how the teams get behind this race are striking. The TV stations and sponsors also focus on this race and I think it all helps and influences the Tour de France to be the most important thing in the sport.

The Tour de France will be live on Eurosport and Eurosport HD for Indian audiences from 26 June, 2021 to 18 July 2021, 7:30 PM onwards.


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