TOKYO (Reuters) – Favourite Tadej Pogacar will be a “marked man” as he attempts to claim gold in the Olympic road race on Saturday, according to former Tour de France and Olympic champion Bradley Wiggins.
Pogacar claimed his second consecutive Tour de France title on Sunday by a handsome margin and is tipped as the man to beat in Tokyo.
Wiggins, who won the 2012 Tour de France and the time trial at the London Olympics a couple of weeks later, believes it might be a tough ask of the 22-year-old Slovenian in the heat and humidity, and with such a quick turnaround.
“Naturally he will be a bit tired coming off the Tour and regardless of form, it’s always difficult, just the emotional side of winning the Tour de France and trying to back up,” Wiggins, an expert for Olympic broadcaster Discovery, told Reuters by Zoom on Friday.
“He was on my flight out on Monday and he looked pretty fresh to be honest, but it’s always difficult and there are the likes of Wout van Aert who finished the Tour superstrong, so he will have some tough challengers.
“But if anyone can do it, it’s Pogacar because he’s a phenomenon of the sport, but he’s going to be a marked man, that’s for sure.”
Pogacar trained on the course on Thursday and described the humidity as “awful” and the final 6.5-km Mikuni Pass climb at 11% average gradient as “brutal” but his team manager believes he will be ready to go full out on the 234-km course that is being described as the toughest in Olympic history.
“I think he has regenerated. They are predicting slightly lower temperatures for Saturday, it would definitely be better if that came true, but otherwise I don’t see any problems,” Andrej Hauptman, Pogacar’s sports director at the UAE Emirates Team, told Slovenia’s RTV.
“He also rode great on the Tour in some hot stages, so I’m not worried. He is also motivated to the maximum. He didn’t even finish the race in France particularly exhausted.”
Primoz Roglic, a two-time Vuelta de Espana champion, is both Pogacar’s team mate and medal rival, although he is probably eyeing the time trial on Wednesday. Slovenians Jan Tratnik and Jan Polanc will be working for their more illustrious compatriots.
While Slovenia is expected to medal, Hauptman said the race could be difficult to control.
“In cycling, the top is very wide open, and one-day races are something special,” he said. “Teams will not have eight riders, but a maximum of five, and some good ones on the climbs will not have good assistants here.”
Wiggins predicts there will be a “whittling down process” in the early stages of the race and predicts few of the 130 starters will actually reach the finish at Fuji Speedway.
“The time adjustment, coming here late from what was a very tough Tour de France, they will feel the effect of that this week looking at this course and the heat,” the Briton said.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Karishma Singh)