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Tadej Pogacar with his smile forward on his third Tour de France

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Pogacar (left) passes Mohoric at Novo Mesto.JURE MAKOVEC (AFP)

Tadej Pogacar, 23, tackles a difficult climb alongside his teammate, sort of older brother, Rafal Majka, 32. A glorious day. A landscape by Heidi. mountains here and there. Some fir trees scattered amidst very green meadows and edelweiss flowers shine. They escape. The first. With 200 meters to go, Pogacar approaches his teammate, pats him on the back and, if they play randomly, tells him who wins the stage. The Pole nods. Slovene shows his fist, rock, and Majka smiles with open hand, paper. They hug and bandage at the shoulder, Majka’s bike ahead, as they cross the finish line.

It happened on Saturday at the Tour of Slovenia, zero resistance, but if you remember the ease with which Pogacar and his little blond hair, which ran mischievously through the cracks of the helmet, won his pen, his second Tour, more than a cold sweat ran down the jumbos of Primoz Roglic, the old Slovene who gathered in the Alpine heights not far from Tignes after a barbecue on Monday. And she and others who see themselves as the young Slovenian’s rivals even thought that a similar scene, so humiliating for all those vying for victory, could also play out in Alpe d’Huez in less than a month, for example could the trip.

And to make matters worse, the heatwave that also hit Slovenia last week didn’t even seem to affect Pogacar, who has always been considered a rather cold man. One less hope. “In truth, Tadej is so talented that he can take the physiological strain of the heat well,” explains Spaniard Íñigo San Millán, the coach of the Slovenian professional cyclist in the UAE team. “He loves the cold but as we saw on the first stage in Slovenia the race exploded at 33 degrees [y se fue con su Majka y, en esta ocasión, le trabajó la victoria a su hermano mayor y cuidador]. Almost nobody tolerates heat as all studies show that it decreases performance, but people with advanced physiology tolerate it better.”

Craft strategies against the heat

Meteorologists are expecting a new heat wave to devastate France in mid-July, and teams are preparing for it. They refine already existing strategies, such as the rapid delivery of ice packs that cyclists can wear around their necks, new forms of hydration, ice vests before the start and nylon socks filled with ice. “I still remember going to supermarkets years ago and buying two dozen women’s socks to put on ice cream,” says San Millán. “The best is still the handmade. Various fabrics are being developed for jerseys and shorts that are thermoregulating, but it will take time to get to market.”

The Tour of Slovenia – in total and three stages, but only one, the last, with sporting value: a frenetic sprint on the cobblestones of Novo Mesto to defeat Matej Mohoric, the third Slovenian, the cyclist who had frustrated him when he rode down the Poggio of San Remo – and the heat are the final details of Pogacar’s preparation for the Tour, which really started in January, with a concentration on the Alicante coast, followed by the first few days in the Sierra Nevada, and before one Week with the concentration in Trepalle ended Livigno, at 2,300 meters in the Stelvio National Park, the last touch of altitude.

“He will come to the Tour with 24 days of competition [tres pruebas por etapas de una semana con victoria en Emiratos, Tirreno y Eslovenia, y varias clásicas, con victoria en las Strade Bianche y protagonismo en San Remo y Flandes]. A similar schedule to last year. It worked well then and that’s why we repeated it and it showed again that Tadej is competitive at the highest level from the first to the last day,” says San Millán. “In the past, people ran a lot but didn’t train very much. Now it’s important to be able to train at altitude and be able to have multiple specific training blocks throughout the season to stimulate different metabolic adaptations that are difficult to control during competition. This approach is key to modern cycling.”

“I needed the break”

What the scientist says in his own words, the cyclist summarized in his speech on Tuesday, the eve of the Tour of Slovenia, in Nova Gorica square in front of Albergo Perla, the border hotel whose casino was a haven for Friuli gamblers back in the days of Tito’s Yugoslavia. “I haven’t run since April because I don’t want to burn myself,” said the cyclist. “I’m 23 years old and could do more days and physically it’s possible but mentally as I’m always looking to win it’s very difficult. I needed the rest. I started giving it in January. And I haven’t set foot in the house in Monaco for a month. It wasn’t just the climb, I also trained for the five stages of the Tour, two in the Pyrenees, two in the Alps and the Rocamadour time trial. I had never climbed Galibier and Alpe d’Huez and I loved that stage, as did Hautacam in the Pyrenees.”

“And not only that,” adds San Millán. “In late April, before taking a few weeks off physically and mentally, I explored the Pavés stage in Lille the day after Liège. In between wind tunnel and tests with new bicycle materials. He’s a professional through and through.”

This modern planning of a lot of training and little competition is only possible thanks to technology, the Watt revolution, software and intelligence that make it possible to know almost to the second all the work that the cyclist is doing and how his body is doing it assimilates both training and competing. . The trainer tests you to set your FTP (functional threshold power), the watts you can move for an hour without fatigue, lactate. And around this number, which was about 410 watts last year, 6.2 per kilo, at the lactate threshold 6.1 millimoles, he designs the training. With these values ​​he won the tour. “We’ll see if the form of 2021 is enough for me to win this one, but it seems better to me, with less fat and more power and psychologically stronger,” said Pogacar.

“These figures have evolved as expected,” explains the hermetic San Millán, who measures Pogacar’s form and how his performance seems to continue to increase year after year after the unexpected earthquakes caused by the young Slovenian. At the age of 20 at the Vuelta, it was his stage in Gredos; on his first tour at the age of 21, the matador Aubisque; in the second, the great flight to Great Bornand. “And this year he didn’t surprise me so much at the Strade or Tirreno, but at the Tour of Flanders, where he just mishandled the arrival with Van der Poel,” says San Millán. “Honestly, since I started working with Tadej in late 2018, that’s perhaps the only thing that has surprised me as I didn’t expect a rider to have such an ability to move on his first performance at a cobbled classic when he would have made classics for 20 years. The rest of the performances never surprised me. From day one I know Tadej’s physiology and metabolism very well and what he can do.”

What hasn’t changed, says San Millán, is the Slovenian’s winning mentality, his willingness to take risks and his lack of fear of failure. “Pressure is necessary if you want to win races,” says Pogacar. “But I will always smile, I will continue with my smile.”

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