PEYRAGUDES, France (Reuters) – Defending Tour de France champion Tadej Pogacar said the morale in the UAE Emirates camp was high despite the team being reduced to four riders due to injury and illness for the final days of the race.
Pogacar’s challenge suffered a blow earlier in the day when his team mate Rafal Majka pulled out of the race due to injury, leaving the Slovenian with only three team mates for the final days of the race.
The 23-year-old claimed a third win in this year’s Tour and grabbed a 10-second time bonus but he trails Jumbo Visma’s Jonas Vingegaard by two minutes and 18 seconds ahead of Thursday’s final mountain stage.
“The effect of today is that the mood is higher in the team. Even though we are now four guys, it’s changed the dynamic now. We’ll be really optimistic and motivated in tomorrow’s stage,” Pogacar told reporters, after winning the 17th stage.
“We can try really hard to try to take time back. Today we saw that we are strong.”
Majka sustained a thigh strain after mechanical trouble on stage 16 when his chain broke, which led to a high-grade partial thickness tear of his right quadriceps muscle.
Pogacar rued their bad luck following the injury to his key lieutenant in the mountains but said it was no surprise that his team were strong despite the setbacks.
“Even if everything had been normal we would still have been the strongest team everyday, but these things happen in cycling and we are motivating each other,” Pogacar said.
“Tomorrow we will give it our all.”
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Davis)