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Comment: Tadej Pogacar will not win the Tour de France

Will Strickson
25 Jun 2021

Pogacar is the undisputed favourite to defend his title, but here's why that won't happen. Photos: Offside

Last year, no one expected Tadej Pogačar to win the Tour de France until the top of La Planche des Belles Filles on the penultimate day. This year, virtually everyone – bar Carlton Kirby – has already crowned the UAE Team Emirates man the winner in waiting before a cleat has been clipped.

Pogačar quietly went about his business in 2020, sitting on the back of the Jumbo-Visma train before outclimbing compatriot Primož Roglič to a couple of stage wins, keeping himself within a minute of the yellow jersey until that fateful time-trial.

It was an historic performance that cemented Pogačar's place as the sport's top new talent, eclipsing Ineos Grenadiers' Egan Bernal who had been given similar hype the previous year.

And while the Slovenian is rightly tipped to take the win having looked pretty much unbeatable since claiming the maillot jaune, there are a number of reasons why 2021 is not his year.


Ta-they Comin'-atcha

The biggest difference for Pogačar at this year's Tour is that he will be marked from start to finish. There's absolutely no chance he'll be allowed to sit on another team's train while they sacrifice resources, and the focus will be shifted onto his UAE Team Emirates squad.

While there's no doubt his team is a lot more equipped for that task this time around – with Brandon McNulty, Rafał Majka, Marc Hirschi, Rui Costa, Davide Formolo, Vegard Stake Laengen and Mikkel Bjerg all capable of putting shifts in when required – their ability to hold off attacks from not only Roglič and his indisputably stronger team but Ineos's four-headed dragon is doubtful at best.

What's more, when the team was deployed against Roglič and his merry men at Itzulia Basque Country, their tactics were completely off and led to Pogačar fighting for himself on the final stage with Jonas Vingegaard on his wheel and Roglič up the road, leading to a Jumbo-Visma 1-2 overall.

Tadej of reckoning

The other fact that we must face is that young Pogačar only won last year because of that final TT. Of course it's easy to say that now and he did pick up a few seconds and time bonuses along the way to stay within reach of the win, but it's hard to deny it.

This year's route has two time-trials but both are flat, which means that not only is there no chance of taking nearly two minutes out of his compatriot and rival, Roglic, but there is also a high probability that he will actually lose time on those days.

I'm not saying he's bad at flat time-trials – far from it, he's had some impressive performances including fourth at Tirreno-Adriatico behind Wout van Aert, Stefan Küng and Filippo Ganna – but history shows that it's only on mountain TTs where he has bested Roglič. His other win coming in the Slovenian TT National Championships in 2020, where he was only nine seconds ahead on a 15.7km course with a 700m of elevation gain.

There's also the case of this year's National Championships where, with Roglič absent, he finished fifth in the road race and third in the TT, 34 seconds behind Jan Tratnik and 25 seconds behind Jan Polanc. If Cyclist used exclamation marks, there would be one there.

Even if yer man pulls out the goods on Stages 5 and 20 this Tour, it will still leave a lot of work to do in the mountains and in the crosswinds, which are all but guaranteed by the parcours, and let's not forget he lost 1:21 in the echelons in 2020.

I'm not saying he's going downhill

What's different about the 2021 edition of La Grande Boucle is that there will likely be a bigger emphasis on descending.

There are three summit finishes in this year's race, the stages where Pogačar is most likely to gain time on his rivals. There are the same number of mountain descent finishes that are begging to be attacked and tend to produce larger time gaps when done right.

Of course the main people that this disadvantages are Ineos, sorry lads.

However this is a huge advantage to Roglič, who firstly loves bonus seconds – and there are plenty of those on offer – but also has proven consistently that he can gain on his competitors on the descents. That stage in the Basque Country where he took the overall victory came from a downhill attack that couldn't be followed.

UAE Team Emirates will have to be extra careful that this doesn't happen again and we all know what happens when you're descending faster than your comfort zone allows, even with disc brakes.

Boucle your seatbelts

Even when he doesn't finish on the top step of the podium in Paris, Pogačar is one of the most entertaining riders we've seen in a long time and will no doubt be the one that pushes the eventual victor into the form of their lifetime.

I'm not saying he can't win, just that it's not his turn. He's still only 22, he'll be back again (and again and again).