Pogacar’s Tour de France dominance challenged by COVID-19

109th Tour de France 2022 - Stage 10
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MEGEVE, France – The coronavirus could well be the biggest threat to Tadej Pogacar’s dominance at the Tour de France.

The two-time defending champion from Slovenia has been the dominant rider of the peloton since the start of the race, but the coronavirus is playing havoc within his team.

Pogacar lost another teammate on Tuesday when George Bennett was forced out before Stage 10 following a positive coronavirus test.

Bennett, a New Zealander who rode in support of Pogacar with the UAE-Emirates team and was set to help him through the mountains, was tested on the rest day Monday after showing symptoms of the coronavirus, team doctor Adrian Rotunno said.

“He . . . returned a positive result,” Rotunno said. “Therefore he will not start today.”

UAE-Emirates Team officials later announced that Rafal Majka also tested positive for the virus but remained in the race.

“Rafal Majka . . . returned a positive result this morning,” Rotunno said. “He is asymptomatic and analyzing his PCR found he had a very low risk of infectivity.”

The UAE-Emirates team said it reported Majka’s case to the International Cycling Union (UCI) medical team, which authorized the rider to start the stage.

Majka is a strong climber and it will be a big loss for Pogacar if his domestique is eventually forced to abandon as the peloton prepares to tackle two daunting Alpine stages including a finish at L’Alpe d’Huez on Thursday.

Bennett was the second rider from the UAE-Emirates to leave the race because of a positive test after Vegard Stake Laengen last week.

Bennett was 32nd in the general classification.

His withdrawal was announced a day after the UCI said no riders tested positive for the virus during mandatory testing of the entire peloton before Monday.

Team BikeExchange-Jayco also announced the withdrawal of a rider on Tuesday after Australia’s Luke Durbridge tested positive before Stage 10.

“Durbridge has very mild symptoms,” the team said.

The peloton tackled a 148-kilometer route on Tuesday from Morzine to Megeve in the Alps. Pogacar kept the yellow jersey with an 11-second overall lead over Lennard Kamna. Jonas Vingegaard was in third place, 39 seconds off the pace.

Primoz Roglic triumphs at Tirreno-Adriatico for winning return from injury

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SAN BENEDETTO DEL TRONTO, Italy — Primož Roglič made a winning return to cycling as he triumphed at the week-long Tirreno-Adriatico for a fourth Slovenian victory in five editions at “The Race of the Two Seas.”

It was Roglič’s first race of the season after the Jumbo-Visma rider underwent shoulder surgery last year.

“It’s just nice to come back to racing this way. I really enjoyed the whole week,” Roglič said. “My teammates were super strong.

“One week ago I was just expecting to suffer. It’s even better to win when it’s unexpected. It feels good ahead of the Giro d’Italia too.”

After winning the previous three stages to build up a significant advantage, Roglič protected his lead and finished safely in the peloton during Stage 7 to end the week-long race 18 seconds ahead of João Almeida of Portugal and 23 seconds ahead of British cyclist Tao Geoghegan Hart.

Roglič won the Tirreno in 2019. Fellow Slovenian Tadej Pogačar won the two previous editions but the two-time defending champion was competing at the Paris-Nice race which he won.

Belgian cyclist Jasper Philipsen won a bunch sprint to take the stage win. The Alpecin-Deceuninck rider edged out Dylan Groenewegen and Alberto Dainese.

It was Philipsen’s second sprint victory at this year’s Tirreno, setting him up as one of the favorites for next weekend’s Milan-San Remo race.

“I was dying in the end, my legs felt really painful, but I’m happy that I could keep it to the finish,” Philipsen said.

“The sprint stage is always different from a classic like San Remo but of course we have some confidence. We have a strong team I think. So now it’s good to take some time off, recover a little bit and try to be on top level.”

There was an early breakaway in the 154-kilometer (96-mile) route that started and finished in San Benedetto del Tronto but the eight riders were caught with just over 3 kilometers (2 miles) remaining.

Pogacar tops Gaudu, Vingegaard to win Paris-Nice


NICE, France — An impressive Tadej Pogacar clinched the final stage with a solo escape to win the week-long Paris-Nice.

David Gaudu finished second overall, 53 seconds behind Pogacar, while Jonas Vingegaard was third at 1 minute, 39 seconds back.

Pogacar attacked during the climb of Col d’Eze with 18 kilometers (11.2 miles) to go, finishing the eighth stage 33 seconds ahead of a small group made up of Vingegaard, Gaudu, Simon Yates and Matteo Jorgenson.

The Slovenian rider completed the 118-kilometer trek around Nice in 2 hours, 51 minutes, 2 seconds, crossing the finish line with both arms raised before taking a bow in front of the crowd and clapping his hands.

Pogacar now has a slight mental edge over Vingegaard, also outclassing him last October to win the Tour of Lombardy.

The duel between Pogacar and Vingegaard has become one of the biggest rivalries in cycling. Vingegaard finished second behind Pogacar in the 2021 Tour de France. But the Danish rider managed to beat Pogacar in the 2022 Tour de France for his first major title.

Vingegaard still has time to hit peak form. The Tour de France starts July 1.

Pogacar is the current leader in the UCI men’s road racing world rankings.

Pogacar and Vingegaard both started the season well. Last month in Spain, Pogacar won the Tour of Andalucia while Vingegaard won the O Gran Camino. Pogacar took the yellow jersey by winning the fourth stage. He dumped Vingegaard in the climb of La Loge des Gardes. Only Gaudu could stay on Pogacar’s wheel.

The two-time Tour de France winner extended his overall lead by taking Stage 7, beating Gaudu and Vingegaard in a small sprint atop Col de la Couillole.

French rider Gaudu finished fourth overall in the 2022 Tour de France but failed to finish in the past two editions of Paris-Nice.

The next race on the UCI World Tour is the Milan-San Remo classic on March 18.