Dubai: Cycling authorities across the country have predicted a huge bright future for the sport while hailing the record-breaking feat of UAE Team Emirates rider Tadej Pogacar after winning the 2020 Tour de France late on Sunday.
The Slovenian debutant — celebrating his 22nd birthday on Monday — confirmed his victory in the World Cup of the cycling world, while also being the second youngest Tour de France champion in history.
Pogacar timed a stunning last-gasp time trial win on the penultimate Stage 20 on Saturday to overhaul long-term race leader and fellow Slovenian Primoz Roglic to claim the yellow jersey and with it a cusp of records to his name on his Tour debut.
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Having held the yellow jersey for 13 days, the 30-year-old Roglic finished 59 seconds behind Pogacar, while Australia’s 35-year-old Richie Porte finished third, a further 3.30 minutes down even as a section of the European media pointing towards ‘infringements’ such as non-use of a heart monitor and power meter by the new champion.
Mattar Suhail Al Yabhouni, President and brain behind the formation and running of UAE Team Emirates, could not surpass his joy at such an achievement. “The team was only an idea and we had a dream when we began less than three years back. Today, we have achieved a part of this dream. [Primoz] Roglic had a strong team backing him, but we had the hunger to go out there and achieve something truly unthinkable, and with so many records along the way,” Al Yabhouni told Gulf News.
“Our young rider Pogacar displayed his true power all along, but on Saturday [Stage 20] he showed the world what he was truly capable of. People will have a lot to say about technicalities in the race or in sport, but he has won the title fair and square and he’s made a whole nation proud. He has a bright future ahead of him and cycling will gain a lot of followers in the near future,” he stressed while ruling out the possibilities of any sort of wrong tactics being used by the team.”
Badr Mirza, older brother of UAE Team Emirates rider Yousuf — the only UAE cyclist who has taken up the sport professionally — hailed the Tour de France win as among the biggest achievement of this year. “This win signals only a start for our aspirations for the future. One day, it was our dream to be part of the Tour de France. Today, we celebrate one of our team riders as the champion. We hope to see the day when one of our young UAE riders goes on to win the Tour in the future,” he said.
“I’ve been a racer all my life, and there’s nothing to say that the heart-rate monitor or the power meter are mandatory. It’s a group race on the road and the coach is always around to do the monitoring from inside the car following the rider. Finally, it’s an individual sport that requires every bit of mental fortitude from the rider. Tadej Pogacar simply showed the world how it is to be done.”
A host of long-standing records fell as Pogacar — who is the first Slovenian winner and first champion on debut since Laurent Fignon in 1983 — went on to win three stages of the total 21 along with the polka dot jersey (as king of the mountains) and the white jersey (as the best young rider).
The legendary Eddy Merckx, who won a joint-record five Tour de France titles, is the only other rider to claim three jerseys in the same Tour. Merckx won the yellow, green and combination jerseys in 1969, before the polka dot and white jerseys were introduced.
Pogacar is also the youngest Tour champion since France’s Henri Cornet was controversially awarded the second ever title in 1904 at the age of 19 after the initial top four riders had been disqualified.
Al Yabhouni dedicated the win to His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the President of the UAE, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces and Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai.
“Our leaders have a vision to inspire and make the UAE among the most cycle-friendly nations around the world. I think this Tour de France win is for the people of the country as well and this win will further drive our project that will help communities remain healthy and vibrant through cycling,” he said.
Osama Ahmad Abdullah Al Shafar, President of the UAE Cycling Federation termed Pogacar as “a new legend whose name will be written in gold for all posterity to follow”. “Winning three jerseys in one race is so unthinkable, but what will always stand out is the way he erased that huge time deficit between him and Roglic on the second-last day of the race,” Al Shafar said.
“The team represents our country, its wise leaders and all the people. So winning this race fair and square means today the UAE has a responsibility to fulfil in the world of cycling. The win was a team effort and no one can deny us this bit of glory.”
Saeed Hareb, General Secretary, Dubai Sports Council (DSC) — who jointly organise the seven-day UAE Cycling Tour at the beginning of the season each year — termed Pogacar’s triumph as “one of the most incredible feats of 2020”.
“The world is going through a lot due to this pandemic, and here we have a young hero to look up to and show the world that the UAE leadership knows how to lead,” Hareb said.
“If we are to take a look at cycling as a sport, we will see the constant increase in the numbers over the past few years. Our base is strong today, simply because we started in a small way and now we have reached the peak wherein we will see our communities adopt cycling as a way of life.”
The DSC General Secretary further informed that authorities in Dubai have been jointly working towards making cycling an integral part of community life in the emirate. “Last week’s joint workshop between the DSC, RTA and Dubai Police worked out a detailed plan to make cycling safer with proper rules and regulations within our communities.”