During Thursday afternoon’s press conference, the Slovenian two-time Tour winner said that despite not fully knowing whether his recently broken wrist had healed, he was ready for a shot at taking the first yellow jersey of the race.
However, despite Pogačar's undoubted popularity, there will be one rider whose name will be cheered far louder on the roads of the Basque Country tomorrow. That man is Bahrain Victorious’ Pello Bilbao, born just down the road in Guernica.
Bilbao is a rider who can certainly handle the parcours set out for the riders in the hilly circuit around the city, and roared on by the thousands of fans expected along the route - particularly in the final third - could well spring a surprise, taking a maiden Tour win and first yellow jersey in the process.
Speaking to the media on Friday afternoon, Bilbao made a promise of his own and said that once the expected attacks rain down, Bahrain Victorious will be more than ready to respond.
“It will be difficult to make a surprise attack on the first stage,” Bilbao said, “I think arriving from Piké would be difficult, but if there are some good moves there, we will join them.”
Bilbao’s thoughts regarding how the opening stage will play out were echoed by his Bahrain teammate, Matej Mohorič, who told Cycling Weekly that the entire team were firmly behind their man.
“I think it's inevitable that it’s going to be a very reduced group going to the line,” Mohorič said. “We have ambitions with Pello who basically lives in this area, it will be the race of his life and we will try to support him with his ambitions.
“We have a good lineup for the two opening stages, they’re well suited to us…We can handle the climbs and it’s going to be two very interesting stages. There will be a lot of fights to get in position to avoid potential crashes and chaos, but we’re ready, we’re looking forward to it.”
Just two weeks ago, Bilbao, Mohorič and the rest of the Bahrain teammates tragically lost their teammate Gino Mäder who died after a high speed crash at the Tour de Suisse. Bilbao explained that in the aftermath of his teammate's tragic death, everything “lost meaning” for him.
The Spaniard said that it had been a battle to turn around the range of emotions swirling through his mind ready for the Tour.
“I thought I was not going to be able to arrive in the best conditions for the Tour, because in that moment, everything lost meaning,” Bilbao said. “Also racing, lost meaning. It didn’t have any meaning for us. In two days, I was not optimistic or motivated.
“I went back home, I spent some time with my family, and then I noticed that this was going to be a unique day of my life, and that all the work that had been done to this moment... it wouldn’t have been possible to demonstrate it. The only way was to change these difficult feelings, these emotions, and turn them into the energy to make something special.
“Now I’m at this point, to try and do my best. Try to do something special in the first stages here in the Basque Country,” he added.
“He’s going to be with us through the Tour, and I think afterwards we will continue to have him in our minds because he was a special guy. We could learn many good things from him. He left something more than a good palmarès.”
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