Jonas Vingegaard was the picture of calmness on Thursday afternoon ahead of the opening stages of the Tour de France in the Basque Country.
Earlier in the day, Tadej Pogačar - Vingegaard’s biggest rival for a second victory - vowed to attack in the opening stages, aiming to take time and potentially even an early yellow jersey. However, speaking to the media after his rival, Vingegaard remained unfazed by the UAE Team Emirates man’s threat.
“Actually yes, I expect him to attack, a little like last year,” the Jumbo-Visma rider said. “I just have to be ready for it. We just have to also just do our best, then see what we can do.”
Pogačar fractured his wrist in a crash at Liège–Bastogne–Liège which cast his Tour participation into doubt, but will ride on Saturday, aiming to reclaim the yellow jersey from Vingegaard.
In the build up to the Grand Départ in Bilbao, Pogačar labelled Vingegaard the favourite for victory. Asked whether this affected him in any way, Vingegaard dismissed the “mind games” and explained that it had no bearing on his preparations for the defence of his title.
“For me it’s quite easy, I only think about myself and only think about preparing myself as good as possible,” Vingegaard said. “I just think about how I can get better and what I can do to improve. In the last two months I’ve only been thinking about my training and preparation for the Tour de France.
“As I’ve said before I’m where I want to be and happy with my shape at least.”
Some would grasp the favourite tag placed on them with both hands, although Vingegaard shrugged off any suggestion that he’s the man to beat, even though he recently won the Critérium du Dauphiné in dominant fashion.
The Danish rider firmly dispatched Pogačar at last year's Tour, with a final winning margin of 2:43. Although, he explained that moving forward, that counts for little once the racing gets underway.
"It depends on who is in the best shape in the end. I don't think it matters to say who is the big favourite – I can also say that he is the big favourite," he said.
When asked to elaborate on further potentially decisive stages as well as more details surrounding his form, the Danish rider gave away little, explaining that the second and final weeks were where the most damage will be done.
"On one hand you can say that you're the hunted but I'm also still hunting the victory. In that case it's not that different from last year," he said, before declining to single out any stage as the biggest test of the Tour.
"I think actually it's hard to tell which is the most difficult because there are a lot of super hard stages. In general, there are a lot of mountains and climbing. I think especially the second and third week will be super, super hard and decisive.
"I had a good period after the Dauphiné. We went on another training camp, and I had a good camp with the team. I feel ready, my shape is good, and I am where I want to be. We'll have to see in three weeks whether it's enough."
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