COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Primoz Roglic must find a way to stop his Slovenian rival Tadej Pogacar from winning the Tour de France for the third straight time.
While Pogacar remains the firm race favorite, Roglic eyes a hat trick of French wins this year when the three-week race starts in Denmark on Friday. It ends in Paris on July 24.
Roglic won the Criterium du Dauphine stage race this month to add to his dramatic victory at the Paris-Nice in March.
Roglic was brilliantly aided at the Dauphine by his Jumbo-Visma teammate Jonas Vingegaard, a climbing ace who is also quick. Vingegaard was visibly moved when Danish fans chanted his name at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen on Wednesday. They will cheer him again in Friday’s opening time trial around Denmark’s capital city.
“As long as we work together, we believe we can beat (Pogacar),” Roglic said. “We are a strong team and we have a lot of qualities.”
Jumbo-Visma has Vingegaard, last year’s Tour runner-up, as a co-leader in case Roglic fades, while Pogacar remains the outright No. 1 on the UAE Team Emirates lineup.
“It’s a big difference having two compared to one. A lot can happen in the Tour, there’s so much stress,” Vingegaard said. “We really want to go with two leaders and we believe we can challenge Pogacar.”
They bonded at the Dauphine by sharing beers after stages on the hotel balcony.
“Jonas is super strong, we’re strong individually, and so the whole team is strong,” Roglic insisted. “We’re super good friends.”
Roglic has won the past three Spanish Vueltas, but is widely remembered for his soul-crushing defeat to Pogacar on the 2020 Tour.
Dutch rider Steven Kruijswijk and American Sepp Kuss will pull in the mountains to help Roglic. Meanwhile, teammate Wout van Aert eyes the green jersey for best sprinter. But the one-day classics specialist and former cyclo-cross world champion is nursing a sore kneecap.
“Everything related to pedalling is not really good,” said Van Aert, who won a prestigious stage up the daunting Mont Ventoux on last year’s race.
Another threat is Australian rider Ben O’Connor, who finished fourth in 2021 and isn’t hiding his ambitions.
“Last year was a breakthrough, now it’s clear which direction I’m aiming for,” the AG2R Citroen rider said.
The race features the return of Paris-Roubaix’s cobblestones and six mountain stages with five summit finishes, including the famed Alpe d’Huez ascent with its 21 hairpins.
Before reaching the heights, the peloton discovers Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid during Friday’s 13-kilometer (eight-mile) clock race.
“I’m super proud to be here,” Danish rider Jakob Fuglsang said. “Proud to show my teammates and other riders what wonderful people are here in Denmark.”
The second stage is for sprinters, 202 kilometers (125 miles) from the port city of Roskilde to Nyborg in central Denmark.
It could be windy, like Stage 3, which starts from Vejle on the Jutland Peninsula and ends in Sonderborg in southern Denmark after 182 kilometers (113 miles) of flats.
After a travel day, riders tackle on Tuesday five small climbs on the route from the French coastal city of Dunkerque to Calais.
Treacherous cobbles follow on Stage 5 and then a mountaintop finish at the Planche des Belles Filles awaits on Stage 7. Pogacar grabbed the yellow jersey there in 2020 by crushing Roglic in a dramatic time trial on the eve of the finish.
The Pyrenees have daunting climbs to Peyragudes ski resort and Hautacam.
The penultimate stage is an exciting 41-kilometer (25-mile) time trial to the clifftop village of Rocamadour in south-central France.
The women’s Tour starts from the Eiffel Tower on July 24 and has eight stages, including a prestigious finish at Planche des Belles Filles.
Annemiek van Vleuten of the Movistar team will be among the contenders. She has three world championships and an Olympic gold medal in time trial, along with many one-day titles.
COVID-19 caused chaos at the Tour de Suisse two weeks ago with three teams and about 30 riders pulling out.
Among them was British rider Adam Yates, the Ineos Grenadiers team leader. He’s racing here but still regaining his strength.
“I had a proper fever and chills,” he said.
Riders and staff had to show a negative antigen test two days before the start and must take an antigen test on rest days.
In a tough blow for Pogacar’s team, Matteo Trentin — who has won at least one stage on each of the three Grand Tours — tested positive. He was replaced by Marc Hirschi.
Jumbo-Visma manager Merijn Zeeman also tested positive on Wednesday and is isolating before joining up. However, two or more positive tests no longer lead to automatic team exclusion.
“Teams will be less stressed,” 2018 Tour champion Geraint Thomas said. “Imagine having the (yellow) jersey, two go positive, and you all have to go home.”
The QuickStep-AlphaVinyl team replaced Tim Declercq after he tested positive. French champion Florian Senechal took his slot over Mark Cavendish.
Although Fabio Jakobsen already had the sprinting slot, it seemed a snub for Cavendish, who won four stages and the green jersey last year. He needed one more win to move past Eddy Merckx and set an all-time record of 35 Tour stage wins.
QuickStep will also be without two-time world champion Julian Alaphilippe, but that’s because he has not fully recovered in the two months since his horrific crash at Liege-Bastogne-Liege
Meanwhile, the Bahrain Victorious team was raided by police for the second time this week on Thursday.
The team said hotel rooms and vehicles of riders and staff in suburban Copenhagen were searched by Danish officers, and they fully cooperated. After two hours no items were seized.
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