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Tour de France: Tadej Pogacar for the third time?

Two-time Tour winner Tadej Pogacar training on the bike in Denmark

After his triumphs in 2021 and 2022, professional cyclist Tadej Pogacar is also the top favorite in this year’s Tour de France. The coronavirus could be more dangerous for Slovenian than its competitors.

“I wouldn’t say I’m unbeatable,” said Tadej Pogacar deeply. All the experts actually agree: the 23-year-old Slovenian is the top favorite for overall victory in the 109th edition of the Tour de France. In 2020, Pogacar only snatched the yellow jersey from his compatriot Primoz Roglic on a penultimate day and won by 59 seconds. A year later, Pogacar triumphed with more than five minutes in front of the Dane Jonas Vingegaard.

Roglic and Vingegaard drive in a team and together they want to prevent Pogacar’s third Tour victory. “We believe we can beat him,” said Roglic. “We have enough quality.”

Attack on cobblestones?

But how is that supposed to work? Pogacar is a complete rider, strong on the mountain and in time trials – and even tough enough to win classic one-day races – like the 2021 Ardennes classic Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Perhaps next Wednesday (July 6) his rivals will have one of the few chances to seriously embarrass Pogacar. On the fifth of 21 stages, eleven cobblestone passages have to be mastered in northern France. The Slovenian still lacks experience on this difficult surface with a high risk of falling. Pogacar skipped the cobblestone classic Paris-Roubaix this spring.

On other key stages such as the twelfth on the French National Day (July 14) with the legendary climb up to Alpe d’Huez, the Queen’s Pyrenees stage up to Hautacam (July 21) or the individual time trial on the penultimate day of the Tour (July 23) Pogacar should hardly be endangered.

Corona regulations relaxed

There may also be a completely different competitor lurking for the high-flyer from Slovenia: the coronavirus. At the Tour de Suisse, one of the classic preparatory races for the Tour de France, more than 40 drivers had to get out due to Corona in mid-June. Pogacar’s Italian assistant Matteo Trentin was also out due to a positive test shortly before the tour.

Tour de France winners’ podium 2021: winner Tadej Pogarcar with runner-up Jonas Vingegaard (l.) and third-placed Richard Carapaz (r.)
The 2021 podium: Pogarcar with second-placed Jonas Vingegaard (l.) and third-placed Richard Carapaz (r.)

Despite the many cases, the world association UCI – a few days before the start of the Tour of France – relaxed the corona regulations: After the obligatory test of the entire team before the start of the tour, only COVID tests are still required on the two rest days (11. and July 18) required. Quick tests are sufficient. Last year, the UCI still required PCR tests.

And even if a driver should test positive, this does not necessarily lead to exclusion from the race. The team doctor, the tour doctor responsible for COVID, and the medical director of the UCI decide whether a professional cyclist is isolated “in a collegial manner”, according to the world association’s COVID protocol. In the trio of doctors, the majority principle applies, in other words: only if two doctors are in favor of taking the driver out of the race does this happen.

No more complete team ban

The rule that still applied to the 2021 Tour, that a team would be completely excluded if two or more drivers tested positive for the coronavirus within a week, was dropped by the UCI.

And what if teams and drivers conceal positive quick test results in the phase between the rest days of the tour – as tennis professionals apparently did at the French Open in Paris? “There was a COVID outbreak in Roland Garros, but nobody talked about it,” said French player Alizé Cornet of the sports newspaper “L’Équipe”: “Everyone had it in the locker room and we didn’t say anything.”

Suspicion of doping goes along

The Tour de France was recently spared from major doping scandals like those of Jan Ullrich and Lance Armstrong. However, this does not necessarily mean that cycling is now clean. In view of the past, the suspicion of doping simply goes with it when someone presents themselves as superior as Tadej Pogacar is currently – even if they have never tested positive.

Because of his incredible dominance, the Slovenian has already been called a “child prodigy” and an “alien”. Or, less friendly, as “Pogacarmstrong” – alluding to US doping offender Armstrong, who had won the tour seven times. Pogacar takes the permanent suspicions calmly. “It is clear that unpleasant issues arise,” said the Slovenian cycling superstar, “because there is a dark past in this sport.”

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