Tour de France: Tadej Pogacar for the third time?

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

Top favorite Tadej Pogacar is the Hunted at this year's Tour de France

“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 the 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 want to prevent Pogacar's third tour victory together. “We believe we can beat him,” said Roglic. “We have enough quality.”

Cobblestone attack?

But how is that supposed to work? Pogacar is a complete rider, strong on the hill 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 in northern France, eleven cobblestone passages have to be mastered. 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 king's stage in the Pyrenees up to Hautacam (July 21) or in the individual time trial on the penultimate day of the tour (July 23), Pogacar should hardly be at risk.

Corona regulations relaxed

There may also be a completely different competitor lurking for the high-flyer from Slovenia: the corona virus. 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.

The winner's podium 2021: Pogarcar with second placed Jonas Vingegaard (l.) and third 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 left on the two Rest days (11th and 18th July) mandatory. 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. Whether a professional cyclist is isolated is decided by the team doctor who is responsible for COVID  responsible tour doctor and the medical director of the UCI “in a collegial manner”, according to the COVID protocol of the world association. 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 exclusion from the team

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

And what happens when teams and drivers hide positive rapid test results in the phase between the tour's rest days – as tennis pros 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.”

Suspected doping moves along

The Tour de France was recently spared from major doping scandals like the times 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 follows suit when someone presents themselves as superior as Tadej Pogacar is currently – even if he has never tested positive.

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