W.ar’s that? There is little doubt about that. The 17th stage of the Tour de France clearly showed that last year’s winner, the Slovenian Tadej Pogačar (Team UAE), will almost certainly also arrive in Paris in the 108th Tour of France in the yellow jersey. Chris Froome, the four-time Tour winner, had not expected anything else even before the start of the stage.
“If he stays on his bike, it’s over. I think he has it in his pocket. ”On Wednesday, Froome felt his assessment confirmed. In fact, Pogačar demonstrated his overwhelming superiority once again on the super-difficult Pyrenees stage over 178.4 kilometers from Muret to Col du Portet. His lead in the overall standings is now 5:39 minutes over the Dane Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma). Another second behind is the Ecuadorian Richard Carapaz (Ineos-Grenadiers).
Pogačar won the stage in a three-way battle with both of them. Previously, he had broken the group of favorites in the ultra-steep final at Col du Portet with a start eight kilometers from the summit. He gave the last two competitors no chance in the finish at an altitude of 2215 meters. Pogačar was in a class of its own. But behind that something happened in the overall standings. The Colombian Rigoberto Urán lost second place to Vingegaard and also had to let Carapaz pass. Wilco Kelderman from the German team Bora-hansgrohe crossed the finish line in sixth, and he maintained this place in the overall standings. Pogačcar still has to survive four stages, only three are driven hard.
Mythical giant of the Pyrenees
This Thursday, not quite as intense as the day before, it’s once again in the mountains, over the Tourmalet, one of the mythical giants of the Pyrenees, to another mountain arrival. A flat stage follows on Friday as a gift for the sprinters, no challenge for Pogačar, then on Saturday a time trial, one of his favorite disciplines. The trip to Paris on Sunday is the usual show run followed by a Sprint Royale on the Champs-Elysées, as tradition demands.
He expected the toughest day on this tour, Pogačar had said before the stage. His expectations were not disappointed. The drag began at 120 km on the Col de Peyresourde, a classic first category Pyrenees climb, 13.2 kilometers long and an average of seven percent steep. A long, exhausting climb and yet only the first, comparatively small step up the steep stairs to the stage victory.
A breakaway group of six riders drove into this first climb with an eight-minute lead over the field. The ranking drivers kept a low profile in the field behind them, and no one showed any interest in an early exchange of blows. After 140 kilometers, the second ascent, the Col de Val Louron-Azet, 7.4 kilometers in length, shorter, but steeper with an average gradient of 8.3 percent. Again an obstacle of the first category. The French Anthony Perez and Dorian Godon in front, four minutes behind another non-aggression pact of the favorites. Pogačar still had two helpers ahead of him. There was only one left upstairs. Continue to wait for the clap of thunder. To the big fireworks.
At kilometer 159 finally the start of the finale of this terrifying stage, a monster from Berg to finish, the Col du Portet. Cyclists consider it the toughest climb in the French Pyrenees. In 2018 he was on the tour for the first time. At that time, the Colombian Nairo Quintana won, who this time could not keep up with the best.
It’s 16 kilometers uphill, the gradient is 8.7 percent on average. It is not an increase in the first category, the tour organizers have their own classification for such tests: Hors Catégorie. More is not possible. Pogačar now had another helper. In the front, Perez pulled away, one last rebellion with no hope of a happy ending on the French national holiday, because in the back they were now turning up the pace.
Then the clap of thunder.
Pogačar started, eight kilometers from the finish he dismantled the group into its individual parts, only Vingegaard and Carapaz, up to then third and fourth in the overall standings, could keep up with the pace. But Pogačar did not give up. Carapaz tried again a few hundred meters from the finish line with a surprising start, but it was clear: up here the strongest would win, and that wasn’t him, but the man in yellow.