From Friday, the Bernese will take part in his third Tour de France. The UAE Team Emirates rider, who has been recalled to replace teammate Matteo Trentin, is hoping to use his regained form to lead leader Tadej Pogacar to a new crown.
Summer 2020. The world is opening up, sport is picking up speed again. The Tour de France does take place, but exceptionally at the end of summer. This historic shift is a lesser evil for the peloton compared to the fates reserved for other major events. Haven’t the Tokyo Olympics and the European Men’s Soccer Championship, to name just a few, been postponed by a year?
The preservation of the Grande Boucle will primarily benefit two young cyclists with long teeth: Tadej Pogacar and Marc Hirschi. Because the Slovenian and the Swiss, both born in 1998, splashed out their talent for three weeks at this 107th edition. The first goes to Paris with his first yellow jersey on his shoulders, the second with the super prize in his wallet.
The man from Bern has fully earned this honorary title. After two places of honor (2nd on stage 2 in Nice, 3rd on stage 9 in Laruns), the Sunweb rider – now DSM – won the timpani at Corrèze after a terrific solo number on stage 12. 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 that catches the eye of UAE Team Emirates formation of phenomenon Tadej Pogacar, who he joined in early 2021. Since then, Marc Hirschi has been juggling poor form, injury and being a teammate. But he has no regrets for forcing his transfer.
“On the contrary, I’m very happy with my choice,” he says. I currently have a two-year contract. (Attention: until the end of the season 2023). However, I would like to stay in this team for a long time. It’s a good formation that develops every year. We must not forget that this team is young. At the world tour level, he’s only five or six years old (since 2017 under Emirati flag). But I feel like every year we’re improving, we’re growing. That’s why I want to stay here for many more years.”
However, in a structure totally dedicated to the cause of the Slovenian ‘cannibal’, who is under contract until 2027, the driver from Ittigen is not the first choice. And it makes sense. But he accepts his new status. “It’s true that we all pedal for Tadej regularly,” admits the man who started at BMC Development. But sometimes we all have more freedom and opportunities to win stages. It should have been like that at the last Tour de Suisse, but the Bernese fell ill with Covid-19 and his team had to retire.
Restored, he was not initially summoned by his team, who preferred to preserve him. Before the UAE hastily recalled him on Wednesday to replace the pack of teammate Matteo Trentin, who tested positive for Covid-19. The Bernese is attacking to give his first pedal strokes on Danish soil on Friday, where the 23-year-old prodigy will find relative anonymity on the occasion. Without bitterness or frustration. “It’s not complicated (to accept it) Because cycling is a collective sport, he slips. I’m very happy to be part of this training where real teamwork is done to help Tadej win the Tour de France. I think it’s great to drive alongside him. It’s a wonderful experience.”
But is it enough for a personal victory? “It’s different, but both types of success are really beautiful. My stage win on the Grande Boucle 2020 was terrific. But just as important was winning the overall Tour de France classification as a teammate the following year. I’m already looking forward to the start in Copenhagen, especially since we have great chances of winning again.”
Tadej Pogacar, winner of the Tour of Slovenia ten days ago, arrives in optimal conditions and seems poised to make the pass of three in France. But to achieve such a feat, the best runner in the world today nonetheless needs lieutenants who are up to the task. That’s a good thing, Marc Hirschi has been picking up speed since the beginning of the year, as evidenced by his two successes at the Per Semper Alfredo in March and at the Aarau GP on June 10th.
“I had hip surgery last December,” he says. I feel a lot better now. Since then I’ve been able to do good training sessions. I now hope to see my level displayed in 2020. I have the impression that I am not that far removed from this form. The operation was the right decision and will allow me to regain the level I had two years ago. At least that’s the goal.”
Just to finally get rid of the difficulties he faced in his first season with UAE Team Emirates. And to remind his employer that he does indeed have a second prodigy in his ranks.
“Of course my team expects more from me,” he admits. As 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 at the Tour de France or some other big race. But this expectation is normal. It’s always easier to win the first time. Confirmation is always more complicated.
Back in the land of his first triumphs, whoever “dreams of one day becoming world champions” will certainly be looking to shine in the shadows over the next three weeks.
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