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Leopold Konig speaks to Flashscore about Pogacar & Vingegaard's 2024 Tour de France battle

Tadej Pogacar and Jonas Vingegaard at the 2023 Tour de France
Tadej Pogacar and Jonas Vingegaard at the 2023 Tour de FranceProfimedia
He has backed up champion Chris Froome and finished in the top 10 of all the Grand Tours, now, Leopold Konig (36) is the race director of the Czech Tour, but when the start of the Tour de France is mentioned, he gets excited. He has plenty to say, and speaking to the Czech media, he assesses the upcoming peak of the cycling season, including the rivalry between Jonas Vingegaard (27) and Tadej Pogacar (25).

Do you think Tadej Pogacar will be the favourite and win again after two years of being beaten by Jonas Vingegaard?

"Pogacar has now sent a message to his opponents that he feels the best he has ever felt in his life. Maybe it's also some psychological game to the other opponents, but I quite believe in him. I guess we'll see soon enough. Three of the four opening stages of the Tour have very challenging profiles and we can actually expect some kind of attack on Vingegaard as early as Saturday or Sunday.

"It's not common in the Tour, but the way the cards are dealt, Pogacar has to give it a shot. With Vingegaard, there's a big question mark over how he'll do given the break and injury. Remco Evenepoel is also coming off an illness. I'm a bit afraid that after this first weekend, we just won't see him again, just like at the Giro..."

But Pogacar also rode the Giro, and history shows that winning both races in a row tends to be rather unique. The last time someone did it was in 1998...

"Yes, and that's the second possibility, whether he can hold on and do it. It could be the most open and interesting Tour in years, because if Pogacar has already put in a lot of work, there are a lot of favourites. Finally, we have Primoz Roglic in a team where he doesn't have to submit to Vingegaard, Evenepoel is at the start. But as I said, I expect big attacks on the first weekend."

Do you think Pogacar seized the opportunity and chose the combination of winning the Giro and the Tour this year - at a time when his main rival was injured?

"I think with the form he has and the confidence he has, it was on offer. But it's more of a coincidence. He really is one of the best in years. It was only Vingegaard who spoiled his reign at the Tour, otherwise he would have won this race four times in a row... And he certainly wasn't sitting at home before the Tour. He won the Giro at a landslide, and now he's definitely finished his training."

How big is the rivalry between Pogacar and Vingegaard?

"Vingegaard has won twice in a row, that must annoy Pogacar a lot. So I think that's also the reason why he's trying for a double this year, to show how special he is. And maybe, if it doesn't work out, he'll want to keep trying. And of course, he won't miss a single opportunity to try to win another Tour."

Could he even make it to the Vuelta this year and try to ride all three Grand Tours in one season?

"He could definitely try. It would be out of this world. He'd probably be completely above any cyclist in the history of modern cycling. But that's a long way off, we have to wait for the Tour."

How fit can Jonas Vingegaard even be after such a serious injury at the beginning of April? And has he had any room for any preparation at all?

"That's the question that is probably bothering him and the team. Of course they know how to prepare, they've ridden at high altitude, they have the best coaches, but if you don't have the ability to feel the race pace and you can't race anywhere for even three or four days, it can really happen that you really can't keep up.

"But if Vingegaard can stay within striking distance into the second week, then he may be the one to get going again. Conversely, the accumulated fatigue from the Giro could then fall on Pogacar as well. I'm sure there could be a bad day and then the three weeks from Italy will show."

Besides that, what could play into Vingegaard's hands?

"The place where he is strongest is the high altitude. There, again, there will definitely be decisions to be made and there could be differences of 30 seconds or even two minutes. It doesn't matter what stage it is, but Pogacar has some weaknesses in those stages. Or, actually, rather differently: that's not Pogacar's weakness as much as it is Vingegaard's uniqueness. Colombians used to rule the mountains because they grew up at high altitude. Now everyone knows that Vingegaard has this gift and talent, and Pogacar is second only to him."

How is that even possible? I mean, Vingegaard is Danish, the land is flat, he was born at sea level.

"This is really a coincidence, he is such a freak of nature. He has all the genes you need for that high altitude environment - whether it's high hematocrit, or high VO2max and oxygen transfer. Those are things you don't just get. You're just born with it and then you develop it. Certainly, not everybody has it, and Pogacar doesn't have it in the levels that Vingegaard does."

After three years, a Czech cyclist will appear at the Tour. Jan Hirt finished eighth overall at the Giro d'Italia. How do you see his role in the TdF?

"I think that as long as the leader Remco Evanepoel is riding for something, Hirt will always be a domestique. But I think the pressure he was under at the Giro has been taken off him. So he could ride the Tour relatively calmly, he could enjoy it and he could calmly perform in some stages.

"He doesn't have to worry about finishing at the back, he knows his help will be needed in the toughest moments. But I hope we'll see him up front. It's going to be tough because not everyone recovers well after the Giro to stay at the front and then in the Tour. But I'm curious about him because he has a guy in the team who has a chance to attack the yellow jersey. Then it's easier to ride."

What do you think about not finishing in Paris this year and having a fight for the yellow jersey on the last day as well. The race ends with a time trial...

"You can see that finishing in Paris is not a given when the priority is an event like the Olympics. Suddenly a tradition that is perhaps a century old had to change. But why not? Unless the gaps are very big, it could really happen that the victory will be decided on the last day."

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