Tour de France winner Tadej Pogacar has won every multiple stage-race he has entered this season. And on the rare occasion that he has been beaten, he's lost only to his compatriot Primoz Roglic. Roglic, last year's Tour runner-up behind Pogacar, missed out on a flawless record this season only because of a crash in the Paris-Nice Tour.
The two Slovenians are in a league of their own. Pogacar, who rides for the UAE Team Emirates, also completed some unfinished business in mid-June, winning the Tour of Slovenia, his home race.
"I have competed here four times, but never managed to win. So, this victory in front of all my fans makes me all the happier," Pogocar said. He also feels well prepared for the Tour de France. "My form is good," he said. "I still have to fine-tune a bit. But I'm optimistic."
Roglic's recipe: Taking a break
His biggest rival, Roglic, who starts for the Dutch team of Jumbo-Visma, was a no-show at his home race. He has been on a break from racing since the end of April to be in the best possible shape for the Grand Depart. This is unusual but the ex-ski jumper is a maverick, keen to do things his own way.
"I didn't follow his last preparation very closely, but I am convinced that he is at a good level," Radoje Milic told DW by phone from his hospital room after contracting COVID-19.
Milic is the chief performance diagnostician of the sports medicine department at the University of Ljubliana. He has known Roglic's performance data since he switched from ski jumping to cycling after a serious fall in 2011. And he also tested Pogacar's performance when he was still racing for amateur teams. Both showed up in Milic's lab this year as well and Milic is convinced that the two will once again make a big impression at the Tour de France.
Pogacar benefits from Roglic's team
Roglic's team, Jumbo-Visma, is currently the strongest in the peloton. At the various national championships in June alone, riders from the team have taken six titles, including the time-trial victory by Germany's Tony Martin, road captain for the current Tour.
Jumbo-Visma was also the strongest team at last year's Tour, letting letting only one rider slip away for a short while: Pogacar. He is like a little brother to Roglic, who wanted to give his compatriot some freedom. Don't expect him to be so charitable this year.
Milic also suspects that Jumbo-Visma will capture the yellow jersey in the latter stages of the Tour. In 2020, Roglic captured it on Stage 9.
"Defending the jersey burns up energy. The later you take it, the better," Milic explained.
Ineos with a new philosophy
However, the Ineos Grenadiers team are hoping to crash the Slovenian duo's party. The British racing team is currently the best of the rest. The one-two punch of Geraint Thomas, the 2018 Tour winner, and Richard Carapaz can't match Pogacar and Roglic in terms of racing class. And Roglic's team, Jumbo-Visma, also look deeper than the British.
That's why they are changing their strategy: "We won't win this Tour by just sticking to the back wheel. We want a lively race, we want to take the initiative and create resistance at every kilometer", team manager David Brailsford said.
He emphasized the change of mentality his team has undergone after the departure of former dominator Chris Froome: "We have changed our racing philosophy, want to be more open and aggressive, more adventurous."
This promises to make this year's Tour a lively race. Also looking to hold their own are Movistar captain Enric Mas of Spain and Miguel Angel Lopez of Colombia.
Sergio Higuita and Rigoberto Uran (Education First), two other Colombians, the Canadian Michael Woods (Israel Start Up Nation) and France's hope David Gaudu (Groupama FDJ) are all capable of producing explosive moments. Germany's best cyclist Emanuel Buchmann, on the other hand, will be aiming to concentrate on stage successes after his withdrawal from the Giro dItalia due to a crash.