From Friday, the Bernese will participate in his third Tour de France. The UAE Team Emirates rider, recalled to replace his teammate Matteo Trentin, hopes to take advantage of his regained form to guide his leader Tadej Pogacar to a new crown.
Summer 2020. The world is deconfining, sport is resuming. The Tour de France does take place, but it takes place exceptionally at the end of the summer. This postponement, historic, is a lesser evil for the peloton compared to the fates reserved for other major events. The Tokyo Olympics and the Euro men’s football, to name a few, have they not been postponed by a year?
Maintaining the Grande Boucle will above all prove beneficial for two young cyclists with long teeth: Tadej Pogacar and Marc Hirschi. Because the Slovenian and the Swiss, both from the 1998 class, splashed their talent for three weeks during this 107th edition. The first goes to Paris with his first yellow jersey on his shoulders, the second with the Super-combative prize in his purse.
This honorary title, the Bernese fully deserves it. After two places of honor (2nd in the 2nd stage in Nice, 3rd in the 9th stage in Laruns), the Sunweb rider – now DSM – won the timpani in Corrèze after a superb solo number on the 12th stage. In the form of his life, he won the bronze medal at the World Championships in the wake of the Tour de France, then triumphed at the top of the Mur de Huy on the Flèche Wallonne.
Something to catch the eye of the UAE Team Emirates formation of the Tadej Pogacar phenomenon, which he joined at the start of 2021. Since then, Marc Hirschi has been juggling between poor form, injury and the role of teammate. But he does not regret having forced his transfer.
“On the contrary, I am very happy with my choice, he assures. For now, I have a two-year contract. (note: until the end of the 2023 season). However, I would like to stay in this team for a long time. It is a good formation, which progresses every year. We must not forget that this team is young. It is only five or six years old at World Tour level (under Emirati flag since 2017). But I feel that we are improving every year, that we are growing. That’s why I would like to stay here for many years.”
However, within a structure totally dedicated to the cause of the Slovenian “cannibal”, where the latter is under contract until 2027, the rider from Ittigen is not the first choice. And it makes sense. But he accepts his new status. “It’s true that, regularly, we all pedal for Tadej, concedes the one who started at BMC Development. But sometimes we all have more freedom and possibilities to win stages. It should have been the case on the last Tour of Switzerland, but the Bernese contracted the Covid-19 and his team was forced to withdraw.
Restored, he was initially not summoned by his team who preferred to preserve him. Before UAE hastily called him back on Wednesday to replace the package of teammate Matteo Trentin, who tested positive for Covid-19. The Bernese is on the attack to give his first pedal strokes on Danish soil on Friday, where the 23-year-old prodigy will find relative anonymity on this occasion. Without bitterness or frustration. “It’s not complicated (to accept it) because cycling is a collective sport, he slips. I am very satisfied to be part of this training, where real teamwork is done to help Tadej win the Tour de France. I find it great to compete alongside him. It is a wonderful experience.”
But does it measure up to a personal victory? “It’s different, but both kinds of success are really beautiful. My stage victory on the Grande Boucle in 2020 was magnificent. But winning the overall Tour de France the following year as a teammate was just as important. I am already looking forward to taking the start in Copenhagen, especially since we again have great chances of winning.”
Winner of the Tour of Slovenia ten days ago, Tadej Pogacar arrives in optimal conditions and seems set to achieve the pass of three in France. But, to achieve such a feat, the best runner in the world today will nevertheless need lieutenants up to the challenge. That’s good, Marc Hirschi has been gaining momentum since the beginning of the year, as evidenced by his two successes at the Per Semper Alfredo, in March, and at the GP of Aarau, on June 10th.
“I had hip surgery last December,” he says. I now feel much better. Since then, I have been able to do good training sessions. I now hope to be able to find my level displayed in 2020. I have the impression of not being so far from this form. The operation was the right decision and it will allow me to regain my level that I had two years ago. At least, that’s the goal.”
Just to finally get rid of the difficulties encountered during his first season with UAE Team Emirates. And to remind his employer that he does indeed have a second prodigy in his ranks.
“Obviously my team expects more from me, he admits. When you get results, you always have more pressure on your shoulders. Because everyone expects you to do it again. Even if I hadn’t changed teams, I’m sure they would have expected me to win again in the Tour de France or another major race. But this expectation is normal. It’s always easier to win the first time. Confirmation is always more complicated.
Back on the land of his first exploits, the one who “dreams of one day becoming world champion” will certainly do everything possible to shine in the shadows over the next three weeks.
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