Tour de France champion Tadej Pogacar played down his sensational time-trial performance that clinched him last year’s title, describing it as nothing out of the ordinary.
The UAE Team Emirates rider dislodged his countryman Primoz Roglic from the lead on the penultimate day of the 2020 Tour to become the youngest winner in over a century.
“My performance maybe came as a surprise but was nothing exceptional,” said Pogacar, who pulverised the opposition on a tough time trial that left rivals trailing in his wake.
In a Dutch television documentary on the subject aired in December, however, two of Jumbo’s riders expressed amazement at Pogacar’s performance. Tom Dumoulin, who came second on the time trial, said Pogacar’s performance defied explanation.
“I really can’t understand how I could have gone 1min 30sec faster,” said Dumoulin, who was in fact 1min 21sec off the pace that day.
The defeated favourite Roglic, fifth on the day, was also outspoken.
“Two minutes. That’s a huge difference. The experts need to take a look at how many watts (energy) that takes. It means you can win any race you enter on just one stage.”
Pogacar dismissed the comments as being made out of frustration right after the defeat.
“They would have been disappointed letting the victory slip from their hands so close to Paris,” Pogacar said. “I think they talked a little bit in the heat of the moment. It was nothing unbelievable if you look at all the aspects”.
“I had a great day, I prepared well, I had a super good bike change, and I had a super good team navigating me through the course and through the preparation of this Tour,” he insisted. “It was a key moment where it was easy to make a lot of difference.”
Pogacar added: “I can’t comment on how Primoz raced, or if Jumbo underestimated me.”
The Slovenian confirmed he would be defending his title when the 2021 Tour de France rolls out of Brest in western France on June 26.
Pogacar will start his season at the UAE Tour from February 21-27 before competing at the Belgian one-day classics and fine-tuning his Tour fitness at the Criterium du Dauphine.
After riding under the radar somewhat in 2020 Pogacar will find himself a marked man at the 2021 Tour, just as previous winner Egan Bernal did this past year.
“Being defending champion of the Tour will be much, much harder. It’s my first time defending a race title and that will be a completely new thing for me,” he said. “But I’ll be fighting to be on the top step again at every race I enter,” he said.
“We were already strong last year, but we had two injuries, people went home. So for sure this year if nothing bad happens, we have a really strong team and can take the responsibility onto our shoulders in fighting for the win.”
“The team is improving year by year and it’s nice to have these new guys on board,” he continued. “The UAE team will be stronger and stronger every year I think. All the team staff, mechanics, masseurs – we’re all on the top level and that makes us a great team.”
But will Pogacar and his team be stronger than a Jumbo-Visma team that can throw Roglic, Tom Dumoulin, Wout van Aert, and Sepp Kuss on the road?
“I think we’re already stronger than them,” Pogacar said.