Pogacar reveals he had COVID in Tour de France build-up

Tadej Pogacar was infected with COVID-19 during his Tour de France preparations, the two-time champion has declared in a surprise revelation just two days before the race starts in Italy.

The Slovenian is aiming for the rare Tour and Giro d'Italia double after dominating the Italian race last month.

Pogacar, who won the Tour in 2020 and 2021, said that the virus only prevented him from training for one day.

"It's not as serious anymore. Especially if your body already had the virus before and I had it once or twice," Pogacar said, adding that he caught the virus about 10 days ago.

"It wasn't too bad, just like a cold. It passed really fast.

"I stopped for one day and then did some rollers inside," he added. "Then when I wasn't sick anymore, I was riding outside."

Pogacar has been dominant this season, winning four of the five races he's entered and collecting 14 victories in 31 days of racing — including Strade Bianche and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

Marco Pantani was the last man to do the Giro d'Italia/Tour de France double in the same season. (AP PHOTO)

The last rider to win the Giro and the Tour in the same year was Marco Pantani in 1998.

After back-to-back Tour titles, Pogacar then finished runner-up to Jonas Vingegaard the last two years.

Vingegaard was hospitalised for nearly two weeks in April following a high-speed crash in the Tour of the Basque Country. He sustained a broken collarbone and ribs and a collapsed lung and has not raced since.

"I'm just happy to be here at the start line of the Tour de France — I think that's a victory in itself," Vingegaard said.

Asked about his ambitions in the race, the Dane kept his cards close to his chest.

"I hope for a good GC (general classification result)," he said.

"I had to take a long break after my crash. I had a lot of injuries that needed to heal before being able to do proper training. Every day from now on is a bonus. I don't know if I can win it. I'm not in a bad shape and I have hopes but we will see."

Jonas Vingegaard at the team presentation in Florence before he starts his title defence. (AP PHOTO)

Pogacar was not convinced.

"If he's here at the start, it means that he is ready," he said.

Fellow Slovenian Primoz Roglic, who also crashed heavily at the Tour of the Basque Country in early April, has recovered, having won the Criterium du Dauphine earlier this month.

"At the moment I feel good. It went well in the last weeks, I haven't had any pain," the three-time Vuelta champion, who will be leading the Red Bull–Bora Hansgrohe team after leaving Vingegaard's squad during the off-season.

Australian Jai Hindley, the former Giro d'Italia winner who was team lader last year and wore the yellow jersey for a day, will be a key lieutenant for Roglic in the mountains.

Belgian prodigy Remco Evenepoel will be making his Tour de France debut and is hoping the race will be a four-man battle.

"I don't know if this will happen, but that's what people want to see," Evenepoel said.

The race, which departs from Florence on Saturday, will be off to an explosive start with the first high mountain stage on Tuesday, where, according to Pogacar, "there will be big gaps."