When Tadej Pogacar attacks for the second time on Saturday in pouring rain on the Col de Romme, a first category climb about thirty kilometers from the finish, a groan of surprise and admiration goes through the press room in Le Grand-Bornand . There goes last year’s winner, already, in an attempt to take the yellow jersey and probably not to relinquish it.
The other riders are still trying to catch up, but the young talent Jonas Vingegaard of Jumbo-Visma quickly looks back at the others in his group. Can’t they come too? Even race climber Richard Carapaz, who himself tried to break away from Pogacar and other competitors in the final on Friday, has to drop out after a few minutes. And then Pogacar is gone, all by himself. On his way to the front runners – he ends up fourth – and the lead in the general classification.
It wasn’t that long ago that the annual cost of the Tour de France was decided in the first week. Chris Froome in his glory years took the yellow jersey in stage 7 (2013), stage 6 (2015), stage 7 (2016) and in stage 4 (2017), only to give him two more days to Fabio Aru in that last edition stand.
Yet this is different. Froome had Team Sky, which was so strong that any competitor was breathless by the pace the black-and-blue brigade rode up climbs. And then the Brit drove a good time trial or he jumped away himself, and that was that.
At Pogacar, the only weakness seems to be his team. On Friday, Team UAE Emirates crossed the finish line completely exhausted, having been in the lead all day to keep the gap with the leading group as small as possible. But the front runners, including jersey wearer Mathieu van der Poel, stayed away and took more time on the Slovenian. It seemed to be a signal to the other teams that it might pay to escape in this Tour de France.
On Saturday, Pogacar decided to do it himself, although his team had done a creditable job until the moment of his first attack. Prior to the first mountain stage of this Tour de France, UAE team director Andrej Hauptman had said that „the Tour is now going to start. We have to be prepared for anything.” He didn’t know yet, Hauptman said, who would be Pogacar’s biggest competitor.
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But there seems to be no competitor at all for the only 22-year-old rider. In any case, the battle for yellow will not come from Jumbo-Visma, after a disastrous first week with many falls. On Saturday morning, sports director Merijn Zeeman announced that he does not see his team participating for the yellow jersey. „Our goal before the Tour was clear – to compete for the yellow with [Primoz] roglic. Now that we have not succeeded, we have to lower the tone.”
Jonas Vingegaard (fifth) and the still well-classified Wout van Aert (second) now get the chance to ride a good classification. They can also go for a stage win, just like Steven Kruijswijk, who is already at 22 minutes. “There are still many opportunities,” says Zeeman, but there doesn’t seem to be much pressure anymore.
Close is relative
Team Ineos then? The intended leader Geraint Thomas fell hard and lost more than 34 minutes on Saturday. Richie Porte and Tao Geoghegan Hart, two of those other leaders with whom the British formation came to France, are already behind. Only Richard Carapaz is still close, in sixth place, although that is a relative term when you consider his five minutes behind.
The same fate befell men like Alexey Lutsenko (Astana), Rigoberto Uran (EF Education) and Wilco Kelderman (Bora-Hansgrohe). The Dutchman said afterwards that Pogacar was “incredibly strong”. Staying behind in the group with the other leaders was the best he could do.
The stage to ski village Le Grand-Bornand was won by Bahrain-Victorious rider Dylan Teuns. It was a double celebration for the team, because Wout Poels took over the polka dot jersey from teammate Matej Mohoric, who also won the stage yesterday.
But the story of the day was Pogacar’s coup. During the stage he already received the blessing of Mathieu van der Poel, who told him to hope that the yellow jersey would go to Pogacar afterwards.
The new classification leader himself said that he attacked because that is the best defense. He refused to admit that the Tour has already been decided. “There is still a long way to go, and anything can happen. Maybe someone else will drive away tomorrow,” Pogacar said after the press conference. He seemed to be the only one who still believes in that.