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Tour de France 2024: Mark Cavendish & Tadej Pogacar among star attractions

In the general classification, you would think an injury to the world’s best rider might leave it a little lightweight – but if anything it could tee-up one of the greatest battles in the race’s long history between the best four riders in the sport: Jonas Vingegaard, Tadej Pogacar, Primoz Roglic and Remco Evenepoel.

Dane Vingegaard won last year by more than seven minutes over his only real rival for victory, Pogacar of Slovenia.

But a harrowing crash while competing in April in northern Spain had put Vingegaard’s participation in serious doubt.

The 27-year-old is in Florence, Italy, for the Grand Depart, but has not raced since his accident.

After colliding with rocks at high speed, Vingegaard’s injuries from the crash at the Itzulia Basque country were significant – fractured ribs, a broken collarbone and a collapsed and bruised lung.

Injuries which required surgery and ones which could temporarily impact on a rider’s respiratory capabilities – even if someone with Vingegaard’s huge VO2 max, external would be expected to make a full recovery.

“It was probably the hardest moment in my career,” said Vingegaard on Thursday, playing down his chances. “I am looking for the best possible result in the GC, but it was a very bad crash, so just to be here is a victory in itself – everything from here is a bonus.”

Vingegaard wasn’t alone on the roadside in the Spain – Roglic, now of Red Bull-Bora-Hansgrohe and Belgium’s prodigious Evenepoel, of Soudal-Quick Step, were also injured.

“It caused me to take some steps back,” said former footballer Evenepoel, with half an eye on Belgium playing Ukraine during his press conference. “But I’ve tried my best in training to improve.”

The perceived wisdom was that an occasionally accident-prone Roglic and occasional steep climb-averse Evenepoel would normally be considered second favourites to the ‘big two’, but for Vingegaard’s injuries and Pogacar’s industry.

This year UAE-Team Emirates’ Pogacar, 25, wants to claim a third crown and make history by winning the Tour and Giro d’Italia in the same year.

Part one of that mission is already complete, winning the Italian Grand Tour by a staggering 10 minutes.

Problem is, he has started a Tour before, having thrilled everyone with his explosive riding earlier in the season, only to run out of steam when it really mattered in France. Last year, in fact, proclaiming “I’m gone; I’m dead”, on stage 17 in the Alps.

Plus, Pogacar this week said he was recovering from a recent Covid positive, which could be fine but of which any lasting effects is still something of a medical mystery.

Still, Evenepoel seems sure who is strongest: “Tadej is unreachable. He didn’t have to go deep [to win the Giro]. It did not tire him out.”

But that’s not to say Vingegaard has been written off. There is an expectation in the sport that retribution is due from UAE after last year, when Visma-Lease a Bike (then known as Jumbo-Visma) deliberately rode very aggressively early on to tire out Pogacar following his own early-season injury.

Now, the boot is on the other foot: and many expect UAE to ride ‘full gas’ from the first stage to break Vingegaard.

Evenepoel says his team will not follow suit: “Let them do what they want. I don’t think Jonas will crack in the first days.”

The circumstances around how this exciting potential four-way duel has come about is ironic at a time when cycling is under scrutiny for how many risks riders are expected to take to succeed on the road.

But it nevertheless leaves a crown-jewel sporting event very hard to call.

SOURCE: BBC Sport RSS   (go to source)
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