Cycling-Rivals still looking for cracks in Pogacar’s armour as gruelling week looms

By Julien Pretot

MORZINE, France (Reuters) – Tadej Pogacar’s rivals have been trying to come up with a plan to unsettle the two-time defending Tour de France champion but they have yet to find a crack in the Slovenian’s bulletproof armour.

After nine days of racing, Pogacar has already won two stages and leads last year’s runner-up Jonas Vingegaard by 39 seconds and 2018 champion Geraint Thomas by 1:17.

He has shown no weaknesses on the cobbles and with his UAE team mates has been perfectly controlling the race, which now heads into its most gruelling part with two much-feared stages in the Alps on Wednesday and Thursday.

Thomas’s Ineos-Grenadiers team have three riders in the top 10 and they will be looking to use their numbers to cause chaos but as the Welshman put it, it’s “easier said than done”.

“It’s one thing to have the numbers and it’s another thing to have the situation and the legs to use them,” Thomas told reporters on Monday as the peloton enjoys a sun-drenched rest day in the ski resort of Morzine.

“Especially against a guy like Pogacar.”

Thomas said that Pogacar, who is only 23, was already among the greatest in the sport, rating him higher than the likes of Alberto Contador, Chris Froome or Vincenzo Nibali.

“He’s just a level above. I think Nibali and Contador were great climbers, Contador obviously his time trialing a lot over the years, and Froomey obviously could do both really well but Pogacar he’s got everything else, he’s got sprint (abilities).

“(The Tour of) Flanders, he was going to win the race, he can ride cobbles, he can do everything so phenomenal really,” he said.

UAE Emirates have been working tirelessly at the front of the peloton to control the pace and Thomas’s team mate Adam Yates is hoping they will pay the price, although he did not sound too optimistic.

“Hopefully there will be a moment in the race that it goes into our advantage and we can try something but so far there’s been no chinks in (their) armour,” said Yates, who is fourth overall, 1:25 off the pace.

“Pogacar, he’s not showing any sign of weakness yet. Even on the flat parts of the race he’s up there and staying out of trouble. So we’re just going to bide our time and hopefully hope for an opportunity to come our way.”

Vingegaard said he would probably fare better than Pogacar in searing hot weather as a heatwave is expected to hit France next week, but the Slovenian was not too worried.

“I’m not so bad in hot weather I’ve been training in hot weather for many days. We’ll see if he’s slightly better in the heat. If he says so…,” Pogacar said with a smile.

“There were a lot of hot days in Slovenia and after that I was in altitude and there were hot days as well so it’s been many hot days. I did the Alpe d’Huez twice before the Tour and the first time it was 37 degrees so I know what’s coming up and I’m not scared.”

Then, there is COVID-19, which has already sent three riders packing in this year’s race, but Pogacar tested negative as did the rest of the peloton on Sunday night.

“Anything can happen on a grand tour, especially with bloody COVID,” said Thomas.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Christian Radnedge)