News Round-up: Pogačar to Worlds, Evenepoel says he can match Vingegaard

A potential mid-season transfer, a tramadol disqualification and all the latest racing action

Clock16:49, Monday 31st July 2023
Tadej Pogačar at the Tour de France

© Velo Collection / Getty Images

Tadej Pogačar at the Tour de France

It was a busy start to the week in the news cycle of professional cycling. We’ve got a marquee addition to the World Championships start list, a potential shock mid-season transfer, and even a tramadol disqualification. We’ve also got Remco Evenepoel on how he matches up against Jonas Vingegaard, and Lotte Kopecky on the rider she wants to be. Oh, and there was also some actual racing, with the latest from the Tour de Pologne and Tour de l’Ain.

| Tadej Pogačar to race World Championships

Tadej Pogačar looked set to skip the 2023 World Championships, but the Tour of Flanders champion has now been confirmed for both the road race and time trial in Scotland.

After finishing runner-up at the Tour de France, with another bruising defeat at the hands of Jonas Vingegaard, Pogačar indicated he was taking a break, declining to ride any post-Tour criteriums and backing out of the European climbers’ championship.

However, on Monday, the Slovenian federation announced that he was the centrepiece of their plans for the World Championships, which get underway in Glasgow this week. Pogačar will take part in the road race on Sunday, as well as the time trial the following Friday.

Pogačar is the sole leader for a Slovenian squad that is missing many of their leading lights, with Primož Roglič, Matej Mohorič, and Jan Tratnik all absent. Pogačar will be the sole representative in the time trial, after lining up for the elite men’s road race alongside Luka Mezgec, Domen Novak, Matevž Govekar, Kristijan Koren, Tilen Finkšt, Jaka Primožič and Anže Skok.

The road race takes place on a challenging course in Glasgow, which looks set to suit the Classics specialists. As a Grand Tour contender, the course may not ordinarily be tough enough, but Pogačar has had a stunning run in one-day races this year, winning Flanders and placing fourth at Milano-Sanremo, as well as winning a number of hillier Classics.

| Majka wins tight Tour de Pologne stage

There was a home winner on stage 3 of the Tour de Pologne, with Rafał Majka (UAE Team Emirates) coming out on top in a tight sprint finish at the end of another hilly day of racing.

Majka was part of a group of 25 riders that survived the late category 1 climb in Zieleniec to contest the finish on an uphill drag through a narrow road, and he commanded proceedings from the front. As the road widened out into the home straight, Majka opened the sprint and held on for the win, although fellow home favourite Michał Kwiatkowski (Ineos Grenadiers) appeared aggrieved at being forced wide through the curving final metres, given Majka’s trajectory.

The result stood, though, and Majka claimed top spot ahead of stage 2 winner Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious), with Kwiatkowski edged down to third.

Mohorič retained the yellow jersey as the overall leader of the race, and extended his lead at the top of the standings to 10 seconds. Nevertheless, Majka himself did close in as he moved up eight places to second overall, tied on time with teammate João Almeida.

Tuesday’s stage is a much flatter affair before another hilly stage and the crucial stage 6 time trial.

| Alex Baudin tests positive for tramadol

The second tramadol case in professional cycling has emerged, with neo-pro Alex Baudin (AG2R Citroën) stripped of his results from the Giro d’Italia after testing positive for the painkiller.

The UCI announced on Monday that the 22-year-old Frenchman returned the test on 24 May, the day of stage 17 of the Italian Grand Tour, with his blood showing the presence of tramadol and its two main metabolites.

Tramadol use does not constitute a doping offence, although it will from next year on when it’s added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of banned substances. Instead, it falls under the UCI’s Medical Rules. However, it does still carry disqualification for a first offence and a ban for a second offence.

Nairo Quintana was the first rider to fall foul of the UCI’s rules - which were introduced in 2019 - and the Colombian remains without a team after the fall-out, which saw him stripped of his results from last year’s Tour de France.

Baudin, who turned professional at the start of the year, placed 73rd overall at the Giro, his first Grand Tour, with a top stage result of 10th on stage 12. He has lost all results from that race but remains free to race, and can appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) within the next 10 days. His team have yet to comment on the matter.

| Lotte Kopecky: My heart is with the Classics

Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx) has played down any suggestion that she should become a general classification rider in the future, in the wake of her surprise runner-up finish at the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift.

In some ways, anyone who places on the podium of the biggest Grand Tour, which scaled the Col du Tourmalet, is already a GC rider and a potential future winner. However, the Tour of Flanders champion insisted she is “not concerned at all” with the idea of moving her focus from the Spring Classics and over towards climbing and GC racing.

"I am very happy with the rider I am at the moment," Kopecky said. "My heart is with the Classics and it will remain there for a while. I will not do crazy things and I will not focus on climbing."

Kopecky stole a march on GC when she stomped clear to win the opening stage, and she went on to place second the next day and third the day after. 14th on stage 4 was her lowest placing, and she proceeded to place 4th and 3rd on the subsequent stages, before that astonishing 6th on the Tourmalet and another 3rd in the final time trial to launch her into that runner-up spot.

“I never thought beforehand that I would be second in the final classification. I came here with the idea of winning a stage, but everything that happened this week…”

Kopecky will now recover from the Tour before lining up for the World Championships road race in Glasgow on August 11, having been runner-up in the event last year.

"I am someone who gets better after a few days of ‘taper’. A moped training session is scheduled on Thursday and on Friday I hope to have the fresh feeling in my legs again."

| Arnaud Démare linked with mid-season transfer

It has already been confirmed that Arnaud Démare will not race for Groupama-FDJ beyond 2023, but he could be lining up for a rival team as soon as next week.

According to French newspaper Le Parisien, the French sprinter has engineered a shock mid-season transfer to Arkéa-Samsic.

Démare had already been informed in the spring that he would have to find a new home for 2024, with team boss Marc Madiot reportedly saying he didn’t have the space or budget to keep his sprinter. Relations then turned sour this summer when the 31-year-old was snubbed for their Tour de France squad, describing himself as “angry and disappointed”.

That breakdown in relationship appears to have precipitated a move to fellow French team, Arkéa-Samsic, who joined the WorldTour this year. According to Le Parisien, the move could be ratified on August 1, which is the opening day of cycling’s transfer window, and could allow Démare to pull on the Arkéa-Samsic jersey from next Tuesday.

Emmanuel Hubert’s squad have a number of sprinters out of contract at the end of this season: Nacer Bouhanni, Hugo Hofstetter, Amaury Capiot, and Luca Mozzato. Still under contract for next year are Dan McLay and David Dekker.

| Remco Evenepoel says he can match Vingegaard’s watts-per-kilo

Remco Evenepoel has insisted he is in the same league as Jonas Vingegaard, as he prepares to take on the Tour de France champion at the upcoming Vuelta a España.

Evenepoel returns to the Vuelta after winning the title last year and having to abandon this year’s Giro d’Italia through COVID-19, but he remains on a collision course with Vingegaard and Tadej Pogačar at next year’s Tour de France, which would be his debut.

Evenepoel has already won a Grand Tour and two monuments, not to mention the world road race title last year, but the next step will be to take on the likes of Vingegaard and Pogačar - who were streets ahead of the rest at the Tour - over three weeks.

“That is a very difficult question,” Evenepoel said of how he stacks up, after winning the Clásica San Sebastián. “We will never know, maybe after next year's Tour. But if I can believe all the calculations that have been made on the basis of watts per kilo, then Tadej and Jonas have shown figures in the Tour that I have already achieved. Although they did that, of course, day after day.

“I think both of them have reached an incredibly high level this year, really impressive. Now it's up to me to work hard in the coming year so that I can take big steps forward to get close to those two super good and crazy riders.”

Evenepoel says he is in better shape than he was ahead of the Vuelta a year ago, but mainly because he’ll be defending his world title - and trying to add another in the time trial - this week and next. He’s looking forward to the Spanish Grand Tour, even if Vingegaard’s late decision to race has added to the conundrum that already included his Jumbo-Visma teammate Primož Roglič.

“I think everyone should be happy that the double winner of the Tour de France is doing another Grand Tour," he said. "For me personally, it doesn't change much either, but I'm looking forward to racing against him.

“I also think that Jonas was not at his limit at all, if I still saw his face in the last mountain stages of the Tour. Maybe he will be two or three per cent less than in the Tour de France but with his qualities, at 97 per cent, he is still 10 per cent better than many others.”

| Jake Stewart wins Tour de l’Ain opener

Monday saw the start of the Tour de l’Ain, and it was Jake Stewart (Groupama-FDJ) who claimed the first stage in a bunch sprint. 

The 23-year-old Briton claimed his first professional victory on the opening stage of last year’s race, and he repeated the feat in La Plaine Tonique, beating Emmanuel Morin (CIC U Nantes Atlantique) and Nacer Bouhanni (Arkéa-Samsic) to the line.

“I think it’s clear I like this race. It’s the second year I’m here and my second win,” Stewart said.

“This stage suited me better last year, it was harder in the finish, whereas this year it was pan flat and it was always going to be a chaotic sprint. Fabian [Lienhard] did a perfect lead-out, he opened up with 500m to go. I just went at 250 to go and I went hard until the line.”

The Tour de l’Ain switches gears for its remaining two stages, with the general classification to be decided in the hills.

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