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Pogacar primed with Tour de France ready to start in Florence

Defending champion Jonas Vingegaard embarks on his bid for a third consecutive Tour de France title starting from Florence on Saturday, amidst scorching temperatures for an initial stage marked by challenging terrain.

Florence has drawn crowds for the Grand Depart of the 111th Tour, a 3,498km journey over 21 days that includes traversing the Alps twice and concluding on the French Riviera by July 21.

The competition centers on a formidable quartet: Vingegaard of Team Visma, former champion and favorite Tadej Pogacar from UAE Team, Red Bull rider Primoz Roglic, a former Vuelta and Giro champion, and Tour debutant Remco Evenepoel of Soudal Quick-Step, who claimed victories in the Vuelta and World Championships in 2022.

Despite Pogacar recovering from a recent bout of Covid-19 upon arrival in Florence, Evenepoel acknowledges Pogacar’s formidable status, describing him as “untouchable if he remains safe and sound.”

The first two days are anticipated to feature intense competition for the yellow jersey, likely contested between Visma’s Wout Van Aert and perennial rival Mathieu Van der Poel.

Van Aert downplayed his form, citing it as his “worst for a Tour de France,” emphasizing his role in supporting Vingegaard. Both riders faced setbacks with injuries leading up to the Tour.

Italian terrain defines the first day, guiding riders across seven climbs towards Rimini on the Adriatic coast, known for its scenic beaches and lidos. Director Christian Prudhomme promises fierce competition from the outset, hinting at potential Team UAE strategies, similar to their aggressive start in 2023.

Key contenders include Adam Yates and Tom Pidcock, alongside Italians like Alberto Bettiol of EF Education First, known for their aggressive pursuit of the yellow jersey on day one.

Mark Cavendish, the British sprinter featured in a Netflix documentary on his quest for a 35th Tour de France stage win, shares the same tally as Eddy Merckx and aims for another victory despite skepticism from defending green jersey holder Mads Pedersen.

Pogacar, who recently dominated the Giro d’Italia, eyes a historic Giro-Tour double, a feat not achieved since Marco Pantani in 1998. The race’s time trials, particularly stages seven and the final leg along the Riviera, favor Pogacar’s strengths, though he remains wary of the unpredictability inherent in the Tour’s extensive route.

As the Slovenian prepares for the challenges ahead, he knows well the volatility of the 21-day journey spanning France’s diverse landscapes.

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