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Cycling needs to trust itself before it can enjoy phenomenon Tadej Pogacar

Cycling needs to trust itself before it can enjoy phenomenon Tadej Pogacar
While cycling must remain vigilant, it must not punish this generation of riders for the actions of those that came before

Tadej Pogacar rode into Paris on Sunday to win his second Tour de France title at the age of just 22.

The Slovenian bossed the three weeks from start to finish to win by the biggest margin since 2014, producing the most convincing performance at the race since the infamous days of Lance Armstrong. And that’s the problem a lot of cycling fans have.

Despite it being eight years since Armstrong’s doping confessions, the lingering sense of doubt still haunts the sport with its pungent odour and cynical demeanour.

Many champions since then – namely Chris Froome – have been faced with suspicion rather than praise after race-winning displays at the Tour.

The same happened with Pogacar last year after his astonishing individual time-trial stole victory from the grasp of fellow countryman Primoz Roglic. And that has continued into this year as the youngster clinched the title in much more routine fashion.

Scepticism surrounding Tour winners is nothing new. It is made even easier when you consider Pogacar’s UAE Team Emirates CEO is Mauro Gianetti. Gianetti was the manager of the Saunier Duval-Prodir team that oversaw a doping case involving Riccardo Ricco in 2008 and then another doping practice involving his Geox-TMC team in 2011 when Juan José Cobo was stripped of his Vuelta Espana title.

When asked about his relationship with Gianetti during the rest day, Pogacar said: “I can only speak for myself. If I need to say something, it was in the past. When I met Mauro, he was really great to me, and he is a super good person.

“I believe what is in the past is in the past, and this new cycling is a way more beautiful sport than before. I can only speak for myself.”

The times up the climbs are another thing people point to as they are cold, hard facts that can be compared across generations as opposed to taking one Tour de France in isolation.

Pogacar’s stage win up Luz Ardiden – perhaps his most impressive of the race – saw him complete the climb in 35 minutes and 37 seconds. That’s just five seconds slower than Armstrong’s victory up the same climb back in 2003 when he got up from a crash to blow his rivals away.

But then when you look at, for example, the average speed of the 2020 race, it was slower than the previous three editions and nearly all of the Tours that took place during the so-called “EPO years”.

Pogacar beat his nearest rivals with a superb late attack on Luz Ardiden

All this is to say when it comes to trusting a rider’s performance you can debate it one way or the other and you can find statistics that will validate either argument.

What’s more, the conversation around doping in cycling is just as commonplace as the chat about the race itself. Like it or not, the aspect of cheating to win bike races has brought with it a level of investigative intrigue that the wider, more casual audience enjoy – a guilty pleasure typified by Armstrong’s soap opera-style confession in an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2013.

But it is a poisonous, toxic environment the sport needs to try to move on from.

It’s all about give and take. Pogacar and the rest of the peloton need to understand and accept that questions and suspicions will come their way in the years to come and that they have a responsibility to answer the sceptics.

In return, fans of the sport have to learn to trust and enjoy prodigious talents like Pogacar until they are given concrete evidence not to.

There is a real danger Pogacar’s best years could be underpinned by this refusal to accept him. We have already heard some boos from supporters on the side of the road during the Tour, a hostility reminiscent of how Froome was treated when he dominated the Tour between 2013 and 2017.

So let’s not let this hugely impressive young man pass us by. Remarkably, Pogacar could, in theory, have five Tour titles by the age of 25.

His attacking, fan-friendly style was there for all to see in the Pyrenees when he won back-to-back stages, forcing the pace when in reality all he needed to do was follow the wheels. It has been a refreshing injection of emotive racing that we were deprived of during the height of Team Sky/Ineos.

Pogacar is a once in a generation talent that has not only shown his incredible strength at the Tour but also in the one-day races, taking victory at Liege-Bastogne-Liege back in April.

His versatility is indicative of this new wave of talent bursting through in the sport, spearheaded by cyclo-cross riders Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel who can sprint, climb and time trial with the very best in the world.

It feels like a new era of cycling is upon us with the changing of the guard over the past couple of years. And while cycling must remain vigilant, it must not punish this generation of riders for the actions of those that came before.