UAE Team Emirates and their champion rider Tadej Pogacar will be looking to reinforce their position at the pinnacle of cycling when they begin defence of the Tour de France title on July 1.
Slovenian superstar Pogacar will be aiming for his third Tour de France victory in as many years, a feat that has been achieved only by cycling greats such as Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Miguel Indurain, and Chris Froome.
We caught up with him ahead of the Grand Depart in Copenhagen:
It’s been an amazing year so far for UAE Team Emirates. What are your thoughts on the performance of the team as we reach the midway point of the season? Any standout moments?
It’s been a really great year so far. Not just for me but also for the team. If we start to talk about the best moments, we have to go back all the way to January at the UAE Tour. We got off to a great start there with overall victory and since then we’ve added many more.
Fresh from the brilliant victory in the Tour of Slovenia, how would you describe both your own performance across the stages, as well as the support and teamwork offered by your fellow UAE Team Emirates riders to produce such strong results?
We had a great weekend in Slovenia. It has been quite a while since my last race, but we had been preparing in Livigno at altitude and we knew the condition would be good coming into the race. We hit the ground running on day one and from then on we managed to grab a few more victories along the way.
How special was it being able to race in your hometown, in front of your own fans?
It was beautiful racing at home in front of home crowds. The passion for cycling in Slovenia has grown so much over the last few years and it’s beautiful to be part of.
Social media went crazy over the incredible Rock, Paper, Scissors moment between Rafal Majka and yourself in deciding the winner of Stage 4. Can you tell me a little bit about how that came about and how it was received in the camp afterwards? It certainly made us smile and it was an incredible moment.
Yes, when me and Rafal played rock, paper, scissors it was a funny moment for us also. The truth is I wanted Rafal to have the victory, but he wanted me to win. As a joke we proposed to do what we did but the truth is I think both of us were just happy with the situation so if either of us won we were both happy.
Heading into the biggest race of the year – the Tour De France – I want to take you back to your first victory in 2020. What are your overriding feelings and memories from the race? How special was it to win?
Honestly as a kid it wasn’t even a dream. It was beyond a dream. When I was a kid, I just dreamed about being at the Tour de France, to compete in it and be part of the great spectacle. To be able to win it was indescribable. It was very unexpected, especially in the way it was done. But it’s also something I look back on very fondly and will never forget.
How did winning the Tour de France last year differ?
It is quite hard to compare the two. The way the race was played out in 2020 and 2021 was very different. The first year I took the win right at the last second and didn’t wear the yellow jersey on my back for the whole race. Whereas in 2021 I took the jersey quite early and held it. This meant I had a little bit more pressure and meant there was more media attention and interviews during the race. But it was also a privilege to wear the yellow jersey each day and to ride with it through France, that is for sure!
Can you describe the feeling of standing on top of the podium on the Champs Elysees as Tour De France winner?
There are so many emotions when you stand on the podium in Paris. There is so much going on it’s difficult to take it all in. Also, you are exhausted from three weeks before but you’re also excited and emotional from everything that is happening. To stand there alongside the guys you have been battling with the last three weeks is really nice and it’s for sure one of the nicest podiums in world sport. The only nerve-wracking part is that you have to give a speech which I must say can be tricky but it’s also a nice moment to take the people who made everything possible.
Looking ahead to this year’s Tour de France, how are you feeling going into the event?
This year I can say that the preparation has gone really well. We’ve had the training camp and we’ve all done the preparation races. Now all that is left is to get the last bit of rest before we start our journey in Copenhagen.
Are there any stages that you are particularly looking to target? What are your thoughts on the combination of riders at the team’s disposal for the event?
On this year’s route there are many important stages. In the Tour there are no stages where you can win the race but there are many where it can be lost. We did a reconnaissance of a lot of the important ones mainly in the Alps and the Pyrenees but also the cobbled stage to Arenberg. What I can say is that it will certainly be an entertaining Tour de France from a spectator’s perspective.
Our team line up is quite similar to previous years. It’s a really strong bunch of guys and we have specialists in many different terrains which is really important for a race like the tour.
Lastly, how much do you enjoy getting back to the UAE to see your Emirati fans?
Every time we travel back to the UAE, we are amazed at how quickly cycling is developing. A big part of what we do is to try and inspire and encourage more kids to be active and get on bikes so if we can help this then we can be happy. I look forward to going back to the UAE soon and I thank you all on behalf of the team for your support which really spurs us on.