Cycling-Race is still wide open, says Tour de France leader Pogacar

By Julien Pretot

RONCHAMP, France (Reuters) – Tadej Pogacar has been in a class of his own since the Tour de France started last week, but the twice defending champion insisted on Friday that the race was far from over.

The Slovenian impressed in the opening time trial, gained time on his rivals on the cobbles in Wednesday’s fifth stage before winning two stages in a row, beating last year’s runner-up Jonas Vingegaard in the first mountain-top finish on Friday.

He leads the Dane by 35 seconds going into the Alps, where he will be further tested by the only rider who made him suffer last year in the mountains.

“It was a great first seven days, but we saw some guys were super strong and today was just a single climb,” the 23-year-old said after pipping Vingegaard to the line at the end of a 7-km ascent at 8.7%.

“The gap (in the overall standings) is not huge so it’s still wide open.”

Pogacar expects to be attacked in the mountains, especially by Vingegaard’s Jumbo Visma team who with Ineos-Grenadiers have the most formidable squads in the race.

Pogacar is not afraid, however.

“On the climbs it’s a matter of strength. For sure we will have a lot of competition but for me it’s the same whether everyone races against me or not,” said Pogacar.

“I just have to push on the pedals and give everything.”

One of his main rivals, 2020 runner-up Primoz Roglic, is already 2:45 behind having crashed on Wednesday.

The Slovenian suffered a dislocated shoulder and is now experiencing back pains even though he limited the damage on Friday.

“Every pedal stroke was like a knife in the back. My goal was to go through the stage and recover,” said Roglic, who is optimistic about the next few days.

“I’m definitely super happy about it. When you’re injured you never know what to expect in the next days and you just try to pull through.”

Ineos-Grenadiers are now hoping to use their collective force to unsettle Pogacar.

“It’s good to hang onto him for a change,” said 2018 champion Geraint Thomas, who was fifth, 14 seconds behind.

“We’re still the three of us (Dani Martinez, Thomas and Adam Yates) up there and the numbers are going to be playing for us at some point. Hopefully we can use those numbers at some point.”

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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