Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) has the same appeal as Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland do in football, according to two-time Tour de France champion Alberto Contador.
Pogacar has a stranglehold on the yellow jersey as he bids for back-to-back wins at the Tour, with closest challenger Rigoberto Uran (EF Education–Nippo) over five minutes adrift in the general classification.
The 22-year-old was predicted to come under fierce examination from Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) and 2018 champion Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers), but the former withdrew after Stage 8 and the Welshman has switched to support rider in aid of Richard Carapaz.
Tour de France
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And Contador believes that fans will flock to see Pogacar due to his explosive talent.
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“It's been a long time since I've seen such great talent in such a young rider,” the Eurosport expert said on Pogacar.
“You know that Tadej can have a good day or a bad day but when you see him racing you feel that he is someone special.
“For example when footballers like Mbappe, Haaland or Messi compete you know that they do different things and that people pay tickets to see people like that.
“Pogacar is the same in cycling because as well as competing he always puts on a show and helps everyone to enjoy themselves.”
With this year’s Tour already starting to look a formality, even if Pogacar did show slight signs of cracks on the double ascent of Mont Ventoux, attention is turning towards a potential showdown with Giro d’Italia champion Egan Bernal in 2022.
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Bernal has struggled with a back injury since winning the 2019 Tour and abandoned as defending champion last year.
But his stunning return to form in Italy hints at a fascinating duel with the Slovenian next year.
'Cavendish has plenty of chances'
Elsewhere, Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck–QuickStep) was denied the chance to equal Eddy Merckx’s record after Stage 12 was won from a 13-man breakaway.
Nils Politt (Bora-Hansgrohe) grabbed his biggest career victory as Cavendish came home in the peloton over 15 minutes down the road, showing off his form by winning a partially-contested sprint.
“We are at a point in the race where it is much more complicated to win any of the remaining stages,” continued Contador.
“But Cavendish has plenty of chances to reach that record because he has a lot of quality and there are many stages to go until Paris.
“The best thing about this Tour de France is that every day we know that anything can happen.”
‘Ominous sign!’ – Cavendish cruises through sprint behind breakaway
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