Primoz Roglic must find a way to prevent his Slovenian rival Tadej Pogacar from winning the Tour de France for the third time in a row.
Pogacar is the favorite to win the three-week race, which starts in Denmark on Friday and ends in Paris on July 24.
Pogacar won Tirreno-Adriatico and the UAE Tour this year, and showed his class with an unprecedented long-distance solo attack to win the Strade Bianche in March – despite being involved in an accident early in the season. one day race.
“I think my form is good, not too different from last year,” Pogacar said on Thursday. “I feel more confident, I also feel stronger, but we’ll see in the race if it’s true or not.”
But Roglic also impressed when he won the Criterium du Dauphine stage race this month to add to his dramatic win at Paris-Nice in March.
Roglic was brilliantly helped at the Dauphine by his Jumbo-Visma teammate Jonas Vingaard, a climbing ace who is also fast. Vingeard was visibly moved when Danish fans chanted his name at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen on Wednesday. They’ll be cheering him on again in Friday’s opening time trial around Denmark’s capital.
“As long as we work together, we believe we can beat (Pogacar),” Roglic said. “We are a solid team and we have a lot of qualities.”
Jumbo-Visma have last year’s Tour runner-up Vingaard as co-leaders in case Roglic fades away, while Pogacar remains the absolute No.1 in the UAE Team Emirates roster.
“It’s a big difference to have two versus one. A lot can happen on the Tour, there is so much stress,” Vingaard said. “We really want to go with two leaders and we think we can challenge Pogacar.
They bonded with the Dauphine by sharing beers after the stages on the hotel balcony.
“Jonas is super strong, we are strong individually, and therefore the whole team is strong,” insisted Roglic. “We’re super good friends.”
Roglic has won Spain’s last three Vueltas but is widely known for his crushing loss to Pogacar in the 2020 Tour.
Dutch rider Steven Kruijswijk and American Sepp Kuss will help Roglic in the mountains. He will need it against Pogacar, who has also twice won the best climber’s polka dot jersey.
Meanwhile, his teammate Wout van Aert is aiming for the green jersey of the best sprinter. But the one-day classics specialist and former cyclo-cross world champion is nursing a painful kneecap.
Another threat is Australian rider Ben O’Connor, who finished fourth in 2021.
The race includes the cobblestone return of Paris-Roubaix and six mountain stages with five summit finishes, including the famous Alpe d’Huez ascent with its 21 hairpins.
Before reaching the heights, the peloton discovers Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid during Friday’s 13-kilometre (eight-mile) time trial.
“We decided that I would be the third rider of the team to start. It’s the most comfortable way,” Pogacar said. “I don’t think I can win, but I will give my all and it won’t take too long.”
The second stage is for sprinters only, 202 kilometers (125 miles) from the port town of Roskilde to Nyborg in central Denmark.
It could be windy, like stage 3, which starts in Vejle on the Jutland peninsula and ends in Sonderborg in southern Denmark after 182 kilometers (113 miles) of flats.
After a day of travel, riders tackle five small climbs on Tuesday en route from the French coastal town of Dunkirk to Calais.
Treacherous cobblestones follow on stage 5, then a summit finish of the Planche des Belles Filles awaits on stage 7. Pogacar grabbed the yellow jersey there in 2020 by crushing Roglic in a dramatic time trial at the eve of arrival.
“There is a tricky first week with possible crosswinds on the flat, bridges and cobblestones,” Pogacar said. “If we manage to stay united as a team, we don’t need to ride aggressively. We just have to fight for positions. We are ready for that.
The Pyrenees has some daunting climbs to the ski resort of Peyragudes and Hautacam.
The penultimate stage is a thrilling 41 kilometer (25 mile) time trial to the hilltop village of Rocamadour in south-central France.
The Women’s Tour starts from the Eiffel Tower on July 24 and comprises eight stages, including a prestigious finish at the Planche des Belles Filles.
Annemiek van Vleuten from the Movistar team will be among the contenders. She has three world championships and an Olympic gold medal in the time trial, as well as numerous one-day titles.
COVID-19 caused chaos at the Tour de Suisse two weeks ago with three teams and around 30 riders withdrawing.
Among them was British pilot Adam Yates, the Ineos Grenadiers team leader. He runs here but he is still gaining strength.
“I had a good fever and chills,” he said.
Riders and staff had to present a negative antigen test two days before the start and had to take an antigen test on rest days.
In a blow to the Pogacar team, Matteo Trentin – who won at least one stage on each of the three Grand Tours – tested positive. He was replaced by Marc Hirschi.
Bryan Coquard (Cofidis) and Daryl Impey (Israel Premier Tech) will miss the race after testing positive for COVID-19, but Bob Jungels (AG2R Citroën) was given the all-clear after it was ruled he didn’t. was more contagious.
Two or more positive tests no longer lead to the automatic exclusion of the team.
“Teams will be less stressed,” said 2018 Tour champion Geraint Thomas. “Imagine having the (yellow) jersey, two become positive and you all have to go home.”
The QuickStep-AlphaVinyl team replaced Tim Declercq after he tested positive. French champion Florian Senechal took his place on Mark Cavendish.
Although Fabio Jakobsen had already had the sprint spot, it seemed like a snub for Cavendish, who won four stages and the green jersey last year. He needed one more win to overtake Eddy Merckx and set an all-time Tour record of 35 stage wins.
QuickStep will also be without double world champion Julian Alaphilippe, but that’s because he hasn’t fully recovered since his horrific crash at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Meanwhile, the Bahrain Victorious team was raided by police for the second time this week on Thursday. After two hours of searches in hotel rooms and vehicles, no object was seized.
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