October 24, 2021

Tour de France: Tadej Pogacar, a winner who (r) arouses suspicion

Less than a year after his first victory in the Tour de France, Tadej Pogacar won his second Grande Boucle on Sunday July 18 at just 22 years old.

While on the 2020 Tour, he had waited until the last moment and the time trial of the Planche des Belles Filles to steal the yellow jersey from his compatriot Primoz Roglic, Tadej Pogacar this year wore the leader’s tunic for thirteen days. . An overwhelming domination that arouses the suspicion of many followers while the world of cycling struggles to exorcise the old demons of doping.

A runner above the others

It’s simple: the Slovenian never seemed in danger. In the first time trial, that of Laval, Tadej Pogacar beat the best specialists in the discipline on their ground, starting with the reigning European champion, the Swiss Stefan Küng.

Then the mountains came and the UAE Emirates racer crushed it all. Attacking in the penultimate pass, he relegated most of his direct competitors to more than three minutes by making climbs in record time. In the daunting stage of Tignes the next day, he rebels: he again puts down his opponents, completely powerless.

During the third week of the race, crossing the Pyrenees, Tadej Pogacar leaves nothing but crumbs to his opponents, offering himself the two queen stages at the Col du Portet and Luz Ardiden. Despite the attempts of his two competitors in the general classification Richard Carapaz and Jonas Vingegaard, he proved to be impossible to take down. Two additional stage victories which in the process gave him the polka-dot jersey for best climber for a yellow / white / polka-dot treble which he had already achieved in a historic way last year.

The legend Eddy Merckx, 34 stage victories and five victorious Big Buckles to his credit, sees him as a worthy successor and is ready to bequeath his nickname. ‘I see in him the new’ Cannibal ”, commented the Belgian during the 19isstage, on which he was present. ‘If nothing happens to him, he can certainly win the Tour de France more than five times.’

An astonishing gap on his opponents

Even more than the statistics on his climbs, it is the ease displayed by the Slovenian that calls out. Certainly, unlike him, his announced competitors have not been spared by the falls, but his ease has awakened old suspicions in an environment where cheating has long been omnipresent. The history of the Tour requires caution, especially after the lasting trauma of the Armstrong years (seven victories struck off the record for doping between 1999 and 2005).

According to the former trainer of Festina Antoine Vayer, an obstinate in the fight against doping, the power in watts developed by Tadej Pogacar is reminiscent of that of the American, just like the gap measured with his opponents: nearly 10%.

At the start of the third week on the roads of France, the second in the general classification was relegated to more than five minutes. Unheard of since the 2000 edition… and therefore once again since the Lance Armstrong era.

‘I would be careful. Very. I would prefer to applaud Thibaut Pinot. The others, in fact, I don’t know them. And I would not put my hand in the fire ‘, confided for his part Jean-René Bernaudeau, yellow jersey of the Tour de France in 1979 and now manager of the TotalEnergies team,in the regional daily West-France.

The suspicious noise of some bikes

This 2021 edition seems to mark the return to generalized suspicion within the peloton.The Swiss daily Le Tempsreports that at least three riders even decided to investigate after hearing a suspicious noise emanating from other teams’ bikes. The incriminated formations? The Bahrain Victorious, the Deceuninck-Quick-Step, of Julian Alaphilippe, the Jumbo-Visma of the second in the general classification, Jonas Vingegaard, and the UAE Emirates of the yellow jersey Tadej Pogacar. Together, these teams have won 15 stage victories out of the 21 contested before the Champs-Élysées.

‘[The suspicious noise] is coming from the rear wheels. A strange metallic noise, like a badly tuned chain. I’ve never heard that anywhere, ‘explains a first runner interviewed by Le Temps. ‘We are no longer talking about a motor in the crankset or an electromagnet system in the wheel rims, but about a device hidden in the hub … We are also talking about an energy recuperator via the brakes. The inertia is stored as in Formula 1 ‘, continues a second.

Accusations of concealed use of electric bikes which, again, hark back to the Armstrong years. In a book published in 2021, Jean-Pierre Verdy, founder and former director of the control department of the French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD), expresses an intimate conviction that he has never been able to prove. when he was active: if the American dominated his opponents so much, it was because he combined classical and mechanical doping.

Faced with mounting suspicions, the UCI felt compelled to announce before the 16th stage that it had meticulously carried out 720 bicycle checks over the first two thirds of the Tour de France.

An entourage with a troubled past

Throughout the Tour, Tadej Pogacar tried to extinguish the doubts that his performances gave rise to. He admitted ‘not knowing what to do to prove [his] innocence’, trying to highlight all the doping tests to which he was subjected.

Pogacar is partly paying for its Slovenian identity, a country at the heart of the Aderlass affair – a blood doping network unearthed in 2019, first in Austria and then in other countries including Slovenia – even though its name no has never been cited in this file which concerned several sports.

Tadej Pogacar must also assume the weight of the sulphurous names who lead his team, the UAE Emirates: Mauro Gianetti and Matxin Fernandez are two former managers of the late Saunier Duval team whose leaders (Ricco, Piepoli, Cobo, Mayo) had all had trouble with the anti-doping authorities at the end of the 2000s – the team had even been forced to withdraw from the 2008 Tour. As for the sports director of the UAE Emirates, the former Slovenian rider Andrej Hauptman, he had for its part was failed at the start of the Tour de France 2000 for a hematocrit higher than the standard.

No wonder then thatthe cyclisme-dopage.com websiteis not tender with Tadej Pogacar’s team, giving it the worst place in its confidence ranking out of the 23 teams present at the start: ‘We give UAE Emirates a score of 2/20. This is by far the worst score in our ranking. ‘

A solid track record

In defense of Tadej Pogacar, his performance did not come out of nowhere. The young Slovenian showed promising results in cycling early on. He notably won the prestigious Tour de l’Avenir, a mini-Tour de France version of the hopefuls, in which several riders were revealed, including Egan Bernal, winner of the Tour in 2019.

On the Grand Tours, Tadej Pogacar immediately imposes his power: in 2019, he won three stage victories in the Vuelta and took third place, behind his compatriot Primoz Roglic. The following year, on the Grande Boucle, he also won three victories … not to mention the yellow, white and polka dot jerseys.

Perhaps Pogacar is quite simply a gifted cyclist, a ‘fuoriclasse’, that type of champion above the competition. If the past of its discipline necessarily prompts questions, the Slovenian yellow jersey remains presumed innocent.