The Covid chaos engulfing UAE Team Emirates and Tadej Pogacar’s title defence at the Tour de France “could change the race entirely”, according to Eurosport expert Bradley Wiggins.
Pogacar’s support cast has been slashed from seven to five due to Covid, with George Bennett following Vegard Stake Laengen out of the race on Tuesday.
And in a further twist, Rafal Majka has also tested positive but will continue to ride on due to a low viral load.
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It all heaps further pressure on Pogacar as he bids for a third straight title, with three sweltering tests in the mountains on the menu from Tuesday to Thursday at the Tour.
Speaking before the news was officially confirmed, 2012 champion Wiggins said: “What does this now mean for UAE and Tadej Pogacar? With two weeks left in this race, the repercussions are that he could be down to four team-mates, having lost two of his best support riders in the mountains.
“And with the next three days coming up, this is really going to be crucial and could change the race entirely. It just shows you how fragile the state of the world is at the moment, and particularly with the Covid situation, even affecting things at the Tour de France.
“What does it mean for Tadej Pogacar? We’re going to find out over the next couple of days – and of course, it could be devastating news for him.”
Pogacar leads the general classification by 39 seconds from Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma), with Britain’s Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) in third at 1’17”.
Although he has proved he can survive without team-mates for long stretches, Pogacar will be concerned that Ineos and Jumbo-Visma both hold multiple GC cards heading into the final fortnight.

'It's Tadej against Covid' - McEwen reacts to devastating UAE Team Emirates news

“It means the ultimate test. We were talking about Tadej against the world, now it’s Tadej versus Covid,” said Robbie McEwen on The Breakaway.
“And with team-mates dropping like flies, he’s really going to be up against it. We’ve been talking about how they can isolate him, how can they make a chink in the armour with Pogacar and his team?
"But it’s not the other riders, unfortunately it’s Covid infections, and this has thrown a huge spanner in the works.
“It’s just such a blow. I feel a bit deflated that’s it’s heading in that direction. Fingers crossed they can isolate the ones that are infected and it’s not going to rip its way through the peloton.”
Pogacar spent the rest day fielding questions about how he will cope with the intense heat forecast over the next few days in France, with temperatures expected to soar into the 30s.
“I know what’s coming up for the next week and I’m not scared," Pogacar said.
"It will be the same for everyone. You just have to keep your body cool enough. I don’t think anyone likes to race for five hours in 40 degrees, I don’t even think it’s healthy for us.
“I’m not so bad in hot weather. We’ve been training in hot weather for many days before the Tour. We’ll see. Perhaps Vingegaard is slightly better in the heat if he says so, but we’ll have to wait and see.”
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