Champion Pogacar brushes off Tour de France sceptics

Paris (AFP) –


Tour de France champion Tadej Pogacar played down his sensational time-trial performance that clinched him last year's title, describing it Monday as nothing out of the ordinary.

The UAE Team Emirates rider Pogacar, just 21 at the time, dislodged his countryman Primoz Roglic from the lead on the penultimate day of the 2020 Tour to become the youngest winner in over a century.

"My performance maybe came as a surprise but was nothing exceptional," said Pogacar, who pulverised the opposition on a tough time trial that left rivals trailing in his wake.

In a Dutch television documentary on the subject aired in December, however, two of Jumbo's riders expressed amazement at Pogacar's performance.

The 2017 world time-trial champion Tom Dumoulin, who came second on the day 20 Tour time trial, said Pogacar's performance defied explanation.

"I really can't understand how I could have gone 1min 30sec faster," said Dumoulin, who was in fact 1min 21sec off the pace that day.

The defeated favourite Roglic, fifth on the day, was also outspoken.

"Two minutes. That's a huge difference. The experts need to take a look at how many watts (energy) that takes. It means you can win any race you enter on just one stage."

Pogacar dismissed the comments Monday as being made out of frustration right after the defeat.

"They would have been disappointed letting the victory slip from their hands so close to Paris," Pogacar said, referring to Jumbo dominating the three-week race until the eve of the finish.

"I think they talked a little bit in the heat of the moment," Pogacar said.

"It was nothing unbelievable if you look at all the aspects," he said.

"I had a great day, I prepared well, I had a super good bike change, and I had a super good team navigating me through the course and through the preparation of this Tour," he insisted.

"It was a key moment where it was easy to make a lot of difference."

Pogacar added: "I can't comment on how Primoz raced, or if Jumbo underestimated me."

The Slovenian was talking at a media day presentation in the UAE, where it was confirmed he would be defending his title when the 2021 Tour de France rolls out of Brest in western France on June 26.

Pogacar will start his season at the UAE Tour from February 21-27 before competing at the prestigious Belgian one-day classics and fine-tuning his Tour fitness at the Criterium du Dauphine.

- The man to beat -

After riding under the radar somewhat in 2020 Pogacar will find himself a marked man at the 2021 Tour, just as previous winner Egan Bernal did this past year.

"Being defending champion of the Tour will be much, much harder. It's my first time defending a race title and that will be a completely new thing for me," he said.

"But I'll be fighting to be on the top step again at every race I enter," he said.

UAE also said that star winter recruit, 22-year-old Swiss rider Marc Hirschi, will ride the Tour in support of the champion.

Hirschi won the combativity award on last year's race and soloed to victory on stage 12, putting behind him two gut-wrenching near misses.

The ex-Sunweb cyclist was first pipped at the line by Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe on Nice's iconic Promenade des Anglais on stage two.

He then suffered another blow when the Slovenian pair of Pogacar and Roglic caught him at the finish line of stage nine.