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Tadej Pogačar enters a world where he’s lost a Tour de France

'Small mistakes' and big realities.

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Tadej Pogačar lopes slowly into the Tour’s final press conference, sandwiched between two UAE Team Emirates staff members, his legs with a bit of a tired swing and sway to them. He looks younger than you’d expect, boyish, slightly built but with a wiry strength. He’s done this before, twice, but neither of them have been quite like this. Today, Tadej Pogačar has been beaten – beaten on the Col du Granon, beaten on Hautacam, and beaten in the time trial. 

There’s a kind of hubbub as he comes in, walking a narrow pathway down the side of 20 rows of plastic folding tables filled with journalists. There’s a polite rush to the front of the room. Waiting for the room to settle, Pogačar looks around, surveying his surrounds, a basketball stadium on the edge of Rocamadour that smells of sweat and feels like a greenhouse. His blue eyes glance up to the rafters and around at the walls. He’s normally impish, but today he looks a little blank. Bored, almost.

The questions begin. He sort of spins in circles with his answers, near identical for the first few. “A lot of small mistakes have been made,” he says a couple of times. “For sure we can improve”

A helicopter thrums past overhead, its thrum cutting through the tin walls. Pogačar’s a bit hard to hear now. Softly spoken. His English has improved over the past couple of years as his standing has grown, and he’s become more characterful. Today, wearing white not yellow, he’s less vibrant in appearance and in demeanour, coiling in on himself. Instead of talking about what went well, Tadej Pogačar is forced to confront what didn’t. 

The Col du Granon, that’s one place. “I was too, uh…” – he searches for the word – “… motivated to follow everyone.” He was up against a better team, and his team – all half of it – had terrible luck. “There was almost no weakness in Jumbo-Visma,” he said. “They lost two riders but it didn’t seem like they had any less, maybe because we had four,” he says, a ghost of a smile on his lips. “There’s a lot of factors, we could go all day on.” His eyes dart around the room, never really making eye contact with anyone. Walls, roof, floor, walls.

In three Tours de France, Pogačar has never stopped trying to win but it’s only recently that he seems to care about being liked. At the start of the Hautacam stage, lining up next to Vingegaard, he turned to his rival with a wide smile and a fist bump and, it appeared, said “we’re going to have fun today.”

Pogačar didn’t look like he was having fun today. He looked like after three stage wins, after finishing third on the final time trial, after finishing second in the Tour de France to a stronger team and a stronger rider, he would leave the Tour disappointed.

Now he faces the ‘what next’. How he can win again. Whether he will change his style of racing. Whether the “big challenge in Jonas which I couldn’t beat” is going to plague him next year, the next year, the next year. 

Tadej Pogačar stands up and walks slowly up the aisle down the side of the basketball hall. His press officer gives him a pat on the shoulder. He’s got a zip running down the back of his white jersey, fresh from the podium, ready to be undone. Jonas Vingegaard, flanked by Jumbo-Visma staff members, approaches him, a Netflix camera crew behind them, and in the narrow space they’re on a collision course and there’s no avoiding the reality of it, right there in front of him. They bump fists, quickly, kind of subdued, and then Tadej Pogačar walks out into a world where he’s lost a Tour de France. 

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