Unless you’re a slightly over-soaked Basque supporter of San Miguel who sees the enigmatic Mikel Landa in his gazpacho, you won’t find anyone in Bilbao to claim that either Dane or Slovenian, n he is not the big favorite of the 110th Tour de France, launched this Saturday close to the San Mamés stadium.
The Quebecers of Israel-Premier Tech are unanimous: Tadej Pogačar will take back his due to be crowned for the third time in four years.
“Even if he broke a wrist, he is ready,” said Michael Woods, recalling the injury suffered by the Slovenian from UAE in a fall in Liège-Bastogne-Liège on April 23.
“I didn’t make it to the top, so it’s not perfect,” he joked at a press conference Thursday. I feel good on the bike, but I haven’t regained all my mobility. I’d say it’s 60-70%, but that didn’t bother me at all for daily training. »
Imaging on Monday told him that two of the three bones had healed, but full healing of the scaphoid “would take a little longer.”
The big unknown is that he did not compete in the usual preparation races with the exception of his national championships where he won in both events.
Despite his long absence, his record this year is as breathtaking as his childhood hair: 11 victories, including the Tour of Flanders-Amstel Gold Race-Flèche Wallonne treble and the general classification of Paris-Nice, where he beat Vingegaard ( 3rd).
“For him, it was a game, easy,” Woods praised. He is on another level. »
His teammate Guillaume Boivin added: “He was one leg over, there was no running. »
Thirtieth in this spring race, Houle saw the same thing. Wrist injury or not, he “trusts Pogačar”.
“It will be him or Vingegaard, if there is not a race fact or an incident that takes one away from us. Since the start of the season, they seem to be above the rest again. When it tempts them to win, it’s not complicated, they win. »
“I think he was surprised, that it was harder than expected,” said the former Groupama-FDJ.
“Vingegaard is really strong, but he’s more calculating. Pogačar, he has fun, he enjoys cycling. Every day he won, he was running like this: “Yes! I’m going there and I’m so strong.” But there, he has a strong opponent and he can afford to play less like that. The only one who can make him lose is himself. Otherwise, I think it’s stronger. He is better on time and punches more on the climbs. »
His team has also been strengthened with the arrival of Briton Adam Yates, whom sporting director Mauro Gianetti has announced as “co-leader”.
This tactical “revelation” did not seem to impress Wout van Aert, assuring that Jumbo-Visma has no intention of changing its strategy.
“It will only change if Yates shows up on the level of the other two,” asserted Vingegaard’s guardian angel. He will then become another competitor like everyone else who can demonstrate this form. If it’s not as good, it doesn’t matter. »
Identified as the favorite by Pogačar, Vingegaard has just won the Critérium du Dauphiné with disconcerting ease. The outgoing winner claims to have improved on the shorter climbs, which will help him in the Basque Country.
“He can say I’m the favourite, it doesn’t matter. I can also say that he is the big favorite. It depends on who will be in the best shape at the end. We will probably look at each other a lot. »
The Dane expects attacks from Pogačar from the first two stages. “Like last year, I just have to be ready. We will also do our best and see what we can do. »
A choice made somewhat out of a spirit of contradiction, after having underestimated him last year at the big start in Copenhagen, and because of the strength of the Jumbo-Visma collective, primarily van Aert, but also the climber American Sepp Kuss, who knows how to play his role to perfection.
First yellow jersey? Matthew van der Poel. Gau on!*
Soccer or boxing fans are used to it, but obviously not yet those of cycling: the Tour de France will not be on television in Canada. Since 2020, the internet subscription service FloBikes has been the exclusive broadcaster in Canada. Former professional cyclist Audrey Lemieux will be at the helm of the French version, along with Tino Rossi Jr. Things are not about to change: FloBikes has renewed its agreement with the organizer A.S.O. until 2028 inclusive. With my apologies to readers who have written to me in recent days and to whom I have not been able to respond personally.
In the same vein, A.S.O. will for the first time make available to broadcasters – for a fee – selected conversations between sports directors and riders. Former Canadian professionals Karol-Ann Canuel and Alexander Cataford are part of the team that will listen to the conversations of 17 of the 22 teams. These, including Israel-Premier Tech, Jumbo-Visma and UAE-Team Emirates, have agreed to participate in the experiment in return for a meager tribute of 5,000 euros.
Upon their return to the country, Canuel and Cataford will continue their work of reviving the management of the Tour de Gatineau, an international women’s event contested from September 15 to 17.