Mikkel Bjerg is smiling broadly, talking animatedly and looks completely relaxed. There’s a simple reason for this, the young Dane has just finished the Tour de France’s final time trial between Libourne and Saint-Émilion and knows that his roommate and UAE Team Emirates leader Tadej PogaÄar is destined to win the coveted yellow jersey for the second year in a row.
What’s the secret to PogaÄar’s success, Bjerg is asked? “While we’re all suffering, Tadej’s just smiling and having fun,” he says. “It’s been hard mentally for me and the other guys trying to keep Tadej out of trouble, although he does keep himself out of trouble very well…”
In what was widely described as the hardest Tour in recent memory, due to the crashes, the weather, and the sheer intensity of the racing, PogaÄar’s uncanny ability to avoid the many pitfalls that lie in wait for every member of the Tour peloton, especially during the race’s nervy opening few days, was the foundation of his successful title defense. While almost every one of his major rivals was skittled out of contention even before the four-stage Grand Départ in Brittany had been completed, the 22-year-old Slovenian managed, through a crucial combination of skill and luck, to sail through those stormy waters.
As a consequence, when the GC battle began in earnest at the opening time trial in Laval on day five, PogaÄar was already ideally placed to capitalize on this advantage. Racing on an undulating and twisting course that his directeur sportif Allan Peiper felt would suit him extremely well, the Slovenian prodigy claimed victory. While this wasn’t surprising, the margin he opened up over his most obvious rivals was. All of them were more than 90 seconds back, most of them were hurting badly, each of them would eventually fall away, as PogaÄar continued his serene progress.
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