The winners of the 2020 Tour de France (this photo was downloaded from the event’s Facebook page and is being used here for representation purpose. No copyright infringement intended)

Tadej Pogacar of Slovenia has won the 2020 Tour de France.

According to a related CNN report, he is the youngest winner of the iconic race since 1904. He turned 22 on September 21, 2020, the day after the 2020 Tour concluded in Paris.

Coming into the 2020 edition of Tour de France, Pogacar wasn’t as fancied as his fellow countryman Primoz Roglic, who rides for Team Jumbo Visma.  En route to victory this year in France, Pogacar won three stages of the Tour; the clincher was his performance in the race’s penultimate stage which was a time trial in the mountains. Roglic finished second overall while the third place in this year’s Tour went to Australian cyclist Richie Porte of Team Trek-Segafredo. A report by the Associated Press, pointed out that the Slovenian sweep of the first and second positions at the Tour was the first such predicament since British cyclists Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome took top honors at the 2012 edition of the race.

A rising talent, Pogacar served notice of his potential last year when he became the youngest winner of a UCI World Tour, triumphing in the 2019 Tour of California. He was 20 years old then. In his debut Grand Tour, he finished overall third in the 2019 Vuelta a Espana. “ After his remarkable third place in last year’s Vuelta a Espana, Pogacar was definitely someone that was felt could get on the podium; though his countryman Roglic was the favorite and Roglic’s team, Jumbo Visma, were seen as the strongest,’’ Nigel Smith, Head Coach of the India based-Kanakia Scott Racing Development Team and someone who tracks the Tour every year, said. Although Europe is the epicenter of global cycling in terms of events, talent and devotion to the sport, Slovenia – it is home to the top two cyclists from this year’s Tour – hasn’t traditionally ranked among Europe’s cycling powerhouses.  The situation is similar to how Slovakia wasn’t regarded as a cycling powerhouse “ when Peter Sagan was winning for fun,’’ Nigel said.

Going by media reports, Pogacar’s win has triggered the angle of a new generation rising in global cycling. “ The past two Tour winners, Pogacar and Egan Bernal, have been among the youngest in history,’’ Jeremy Whittle noted in his report on the 2020 race in The Guardian. “ The kids – from the irrepressible Pogacar to Van Alert and his teammate Sepp Kuss, to Marc Hirschi of Team Sunweb, Enric Mas of Movistar and Neilson Powless and Dani Martinez of Education First – have all made their mark,’’ he wrote. Asked for his view, Nigel said, “ Yes, you could say there has been a small shift in the age of successful riders; last year Egan Bernal and Remco Evenepoel had been winning all over the place, to name but two. It’s for a variety of reasons – sports science has improved; talent identification and youth development programs are much better and possibly, most importantly, the sport is much cleaner now.’’

Pogacar’s victory also puts the spotlight on his team: UAE Team Emirates; the Slovenian cyclist’s contract with them is till the end of the 2023 season. Top teams like those participating in Tour de France are a convergence of multiple abilities ranging from talent in cycling to money and resources. According to a September 20, 2020 report by Alaric Gomes in Gulf News, the team’s origin can be traced to Lampre-Merida founded in August 2016 by former Italian cyclist Giuseppe Saronni.  A while later, it was informed that its world team licence was being transferred to the Chinese company TJ Sport Consultation with the resultant entity set to become the first Chinese World Tour team in 2017.

At this point it was indicated that the project was being monitored by the Chinese government with a view to developing Chinese cycling and riders. However in November, TJ Sports’ application came under review by UCI’s Licensing Commission.  It was attributed to developments at TJ Sport causing delay in funding. The team then rebranded as UAE Abu Dhabi and the UCI confirmed a new World Tour licence in December. In February 2017, the team announced that airline major Emirates had become its sponsor with team name revised to UAE Team Emirates. The new team was launched in Abu Dhabi in January 2017, the report said. According to Wikipedia’s page on him, Saronni is currently an advisor to UAE Team Emirates.

In the past, cyclists from India have spoken of their desire to see a similar Indian experiment at the top races in cycling (for more on this, please click on this link: https://shyamgopan.com/2018/10/12/from-a-cafe-in-bengaluru-dreaming-a-world-class-bicycle-racing-team/).

(The author, Shyam G Menon, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.)

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