By Nancy Smith
The 2020 Tour de France was one of the most significant races of the last decade. Since 2012, Team Sky dominated the ultimate event in road cycling under the governance of Sir Dave Brailsford. He masterminded a team that would remain the dominant force on the roads for years to come. It started with Bradley Wiggins, and then Chris Froome took over as the heir to the throne, claiming the yellow jersey in 2013, 2015, 2016, and 2017. In 2018, injury struck the ageing star, paving the way for teammate Geraint Thomas to take the crown.
In 2019, Team Ineos emerged in place of Team Sky, with young-gun Egan Bernal proving himself capable of leading the team. His Tour de France triumph surely indicated a continuation of the team’s dominance, but then, in 2020 and 2021, all of that changed, with the even younger Tadej Pogačar defying the odds to triumph.
Now, he’s tipped to resume his dominance with the upstart UAE Team Emirates.
Building on an emphatic start for rider and team
It may not be until July next year, but the cycling betting already has Tadej Pogačar as the narrow favourite to complete the three-peat of Tour de France triumphs. Of course, as the event draws closer and the fans pile in, his odds will shrink from 5/4 likely to below evens, especially if he puts in a sound World Championships showing – which he was way out at 25/1 to win.
If he goes on to win three-in-a-row, the now-22-year-old will join the prestigious class of Chris Froome, Miguel Indurain, Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil, and Louison Bobet – most of whom then claimed a fourth consecutive yellow jersey. What’s most encouraging about this possibility is that it’s not just Pogačar who’s enjoying this early meteoric rise: it’s also the team.
UAE Team Emirates only came into being in 2017 when Matar Suhail Al Yabhouni led a takeover of Lampre. Not content with the also-ran status of the team, a tremendous amount of talent and money was invested into the team to make it a competitor. In 2019, they found the final piece of the puzzle: an untested young Slovenian who quickly proved himself capable at an elite level.
Team Ineos thought that they had the frontrunner of the future in Bernal, who is a remarkably talented cyclist, but if the sudden rise of UAE Team Emirates and Pogačar is anything to go by, they’ve got plenty more to give.
A compatriot and a competitor
What shouldn’t be forgotten about Pogačar’s rise to prominence is that he has been somewhat lucky along the way, particularly in regards to his main opponent, fellow Slovenian Primož Roglič. In 2020, the now-31-year-old was all but declared the winner of the Tour de France, rode well with a healthy advantage in the final time trial, but Pogačar simply outdid him in this ultimately decisive section.
It was a brutal way to lose the yellow jersey, but perhaps not as demoralising as the 2021 Tour de France. This time, he abandoned the event. An abundance of crashes and injuries through the early stages for Roglič and his team, Jumbo-Visma, ended their hopes of making good on the promise of 2020. At 35 minutes back by the end of Stage 8, the Slovenian called it, giving his compatriot one fewer elite-class competitor to handle.
If all goes well for the next year, cycling fans could be graced with an incredible matchup between two top-tier Slovenian cyclists on opposing teams. It should make for a very exciting race, with Pogačar narrowly favoured as the defending champion and Roglič out to prove that he can finally go all the way.