The Tour de France gets underway in Denmark on July 1, with reigning champion Tadej Pogacar bidding to place himself among cycling’s all-time greats.
The 23-year-old, who enjoyed success on home soil in this month’s Tour of Slovenia, could make history over the coming weeks and cement his place at the top of the sport.
Here, we look at Pogacar’s rapid ascent, his record at major races outside of Le Tour and the main obstacles to his potential dominance.
Amazing atmosphere today in Novo Mesto 😍
Really happy to win today and defend my title. Big thanks to each and everyone of my teammates @TeamEmiratesUAE 🙏
— Tadej Pogačar (@TamauPogi) June 19, 2022
Who is Tadej Pogacar?
Tadej Pogacar was born in Komenda, Slovenia in 1998 and caught the eye of coaches while at the Rog Ljubljana cycling club, which he joined as a nine-year-old.
Andrej Hauptman, his coach for much of Pogacar’s senior career, was impressed early on. The story goes that he watched the young Pogacar in a race as a young teenager, chasing down a leading group of much older competitors. When he asked organisers to help Pogacar, who he thought was struggling to catch them up, Hauptman was informed that the protege was, in fact, about to lap the group he was chasing.
Pogacar was a breakout winner of the general classification on his first Tour de France in 2020, becoming the youngest victor in road cycling’s blue-ribband event for more than a century.
He backed this up by retaining his crown last year and, at just 23, the Slovenian looks to be at the beginning of what could be an era-defining spell.
How did Pogacar win the Tour de France in 2020?
Making his debut for Team UAE Emirates, the original plan was for Pogacar to ride in support of team leader Fabio Aru. He soon showed he was a better bet for GC glory, however, impressing on the stage four climb to Orcieres-Merlette.
Pogacar finished second to Primoz Roglic on that stage and his battle with his fellow Slovenian went to the wire. He outsprinted Roglic and Egan Bernal to claim a maiden stage win on stage nine, with Aru having withdrawn from the race.
He again bested Roglic en route to the top of Col du Grand Colomier to win stage 15 but was 57 seconds behind his compatriot heading into the decisive penultimate time trial. Over the 35.2-kilometre route, Pogacar tore into Roglic’s advantage and incredibly opened up a 59-second lead heading into the ceremonial final stage in Paris.
🤩 A stage we will remember!
💪 The final Slovenian duel offered us a tremendous final!
— Tour de France™ (@LeTour) September 19, 2020
Pogacar became the second-youngest winner of Le Tour behind Henri Cornet, who triumphed as a 19-year-old in 1904. He emulated the great Eddy Merckx by also winning the young rider and mountain classifications and was the first man since Laurent Fignon in 1983 to prevail in the GC on his maiden Tour.
How did Pogacar win the Tour de France in 2021?
The following year, Pogacar was no longer a surprise package but that did not mean any of his rivals had much of a clue how to stop him.
When the race hit the mountains on stage eight, a dominant showing saw him take the yellow jersey and open up a sizeable advantage over presumed rivals Roglic, Geraint Thomas and Richard Carapaz.
While Carapaz remained roughly in his orbit, coming in a shade over four minutes behind the champion, 2018 winner Thomas and Roglic came in more than half an hour in arrears.
From that point, Pogacar did not loosen his grip and wins on stages 17 and 18 meant there was no need for a repeat of 2020’s late drama as he took a lead of more than five minutes to Paris.
In the French capital, he again stood on top of the podium as the overall winner and also retained his mountains and young rider jerseys.
— Tour de France™ (@LeTour) July 18, 2021
Who has the most Tour de France general classification wins?
Pogacar became the youngest rider to win back-to-back Tour titles and will now seek to emulate the likes Merckx, Chris Froome, Miguel Indurain, Jacques Anquetil and Louison Bobet by winning three in a row.
Anquetil, Merckx, Indurain and Bernard Hinault are tied at the top of the all-time standings with five wins apiece. Spanish great Indurain is the only rider among them to have won all of his in succession, between 1991 and 1995.
Froome is next on four and Pogacar will seek to join Greg LeMond among three riders who have three yellow jerseys to their names.
Most successful Tour de France riders
|Cyclist||Total wins||Years won|
|Jacques Anquetil||5||1957, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964|
|Eddy Merckx||5||1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974|
|Bernard Hinault||5||1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1985|
|Miguel Indurain||5||1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995|
|Chris Froome||4||2013, 2015, 2016, 2017|
|Philippe Thys||3||1913, 1914, 1920|
|Louison Bobet||3||1953, 1954, 1955|
|Greg LeMond||3||1986, 1989, 1990|
LeMond now stands as the United States’ greatest ever road cyclist after Lance Armstrong had his seven Tour wins between 1999 and 2005 scrubbed from the record due to being the ringleader of a sophisticated and systemic doping programme during his time riding with the U.S. Postal Service team.
Has Pogacar faced doping allegations?
Pogacar has never failed a drug test but suspicion around successful breakthrough performers in the post-Armstrong era remains a fact of life for cyclists.
Armstrong himself frequently pointed to his unblemished record when it came to doping violations, with the full extent of his cheating coming to light after his retirement.
Particularly around his sensational stage eight performance last year, Pogacar was the subject of innuendo-laden chatter over the legality of his performances on social media. This is a matter over which the youngster is fairly relaxed and accepting of the weight of history.
“I’m not angry,” Pogacar said about the unsubstantiated accusations after his 2021 Tour success. “They are uncomfortable questions because the history of cycling was really bad. I totally understand why there are all of these questions.
“I didn’t prepare anything for those kind of questions. I just like to ride my bike and what comes with it, comes with it. I’ll deal with it. I’m a good kid with a good education. I’m not one to take shortcuts.”
What other titles has Pogacar won?
Pogacar finished third at the 2019 Vuelta a Espana in his maiden outing at one of the Grand Tours but he has since focused exclusively on the Tour de France.
Giro d’Italia race director Mauro Vegni challenged Pogacar to try to complete the Giro and Tour double after the 2021 season and, although the rider expressed an interest in tackling the race at some point, he did not take part in 2022.
In 2021, he won Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Giro di Lombardia, two of cycling’s five Monuments — races considered the most prestigious one-day events.
Pogacar also demonstrated his prowess in single-day races by winning Strade Bianche, the first Classic of 2022.
— Strade Bianche (@StradeBianche) March 5, 2022
Indeed, he already appears to be in ominous form this year, having retained his titles at Tirreno-Adriatico, the UAE Tour and the Tour of Slovenia, while coming in fifth and fourth respectively at Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders.
As they cruised towards the finish at the end of stage four of the Tour of Slovenia, he handed victory to teammate Rafal Majka after losing a game of rock, paper, scissors, with their nearest rivals some 22 seconds behind.
Rock, paper, scissors anyone? ✂
Rafaj Majka and Tadej Pogacar take a 1-2 at the Tour of Slovenia… decided by a game of rock, paper, scissors! 😅 pic.twitter.com/YfyujYGMkM
— Eurosport (@eurosport) June 18, 2022
At the Olympic road race in Tokyo last year, Pogacar claimed bronze.
Tour de France 2022 odds: Who are Pogacar’s main rivals?
Such form outlines why SkyBet have priced Pogacar as a 4/5 favourite to make it three out of three.
Jonas Vingegaard, who finished second on the podium in 2021, is next on the betting at 11/4.
Roglic and Thomas are priced at 4/1 and 12/1, respectively. It is very hard to make a case for backing against Pogacar, who is on the way to becoming a phenomenon in his sport.