Cycling: Pogacar ready as Denmark reaches Tour de France fever pitch

Tadej Pogacar of the UAE Team Emirates at a training session, in Koge, Denmark, on June 29, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

COPENHAGEN (AFP) - With one day remaining ahead of the Tour de France's Grand Depart in Denmark, Tadej Pogacar sounded a warning to those hoping to dethrone the double champion.

The world's greatest bicycle race embarks from Copenhagen on Friday (July 1) and if the 30,000 fans who turned out for the unveiling of the teams on Wednesday is anything to go by, the Danish public will be out in force for the three opening stages here.

A confident Pogacar was thrilled by the prospect.

"I can't wait," the 23-year-old Slovenian said.

"We are all ready, we have a strong team and it's just a matter of not stressing too much until Friday."

The opening stage around the streets of Copenhagen may be hit by rain.

"I don't know what to think about the time-trial but I'm ready and I'm sure its going to be fast. It's short and technically challenging," he said, before the 13.2km individual test.

"Everyone seems to be stressed but we are confident," continued the surprise 2020 winner, who defended his title 12 months ago.

Jumbo-Visma's co-captain, Dane Jonas Vingegaard, said he was hoping to simply survive the first week rather than attack it.

But his teammate Wout Van Aert, possibly the world's best one-day racer, was planning to open with a bang after two editions impacted by Covid-19.

"Wearing the yellow jersey myself at the beginning of the race has been a big goal for me this season," said Belgian Van Aert, one of the favourites to win the opening stage.

"I was surprised by the amount of people on the roadsides. After two years, we can finally have a Grand Depart with huge crowds."

His key rival could be Ineos's Italian world time-trial champion, the gentle-giant Filippo Ganna.

"Lots of people want this yellow jersey, so it won't be easy," said Ganna, who won the Giro d'Italia's opening day time-trial in May.

"Now I want the yellow jersey for my museum too."

The 2018 champion Geraint Thomas is racing his 12th Tour de France, and has promised Pogacar, Vingegaard and the rest of the contenders his Ineos team will be racing aggressively, in the manner they have adopted this season to such success.

On a darker note, Danish police raided the hotel of Bahrain Victorious early on Thursday, but after two hours of searching all the team cars, nothing was requisitioned.

The raid led to an excruciating press conference later in the day when the team refused to answer questions on the matter and the press refused to ask about anything else.

Covid-19 was another taboo subject ahead of the start as around ten riders originally scheduled to start pulled out with positive cases.

Whoever wins on Friday, Saturday's second stage runs 202.5km from Roskilde to Nyborg along verdant roads adjacent to fjords, culminating with a 20km crossing of the Great Belt Bridge where a second equally tense struggle for the lead is expected.

Some 12 million cars and trucks cross the bridge each year but the 176-strong peloton is liable to be subject to strong crosswinds on the sea crossing.

Sunday's final day in Denmark is a 182km run from Vejl to Sonderborg, a municipality that boasts more than 300km of bike paths in a nation where five times more journeys are made by bicycle than by car.

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