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Tour de France

‘I cracked a little:’ Tadej Pogačar under assault on Mont Ventoux

Yellow jersey defends lead despite pressure from all sides on Mont Ventoux as Tour de France hits equator.

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MAUCELENE, France (VN) — Tadej Pogačar widened his lead on the yellow jersey Wednesday after a brutal, two-climb assault of Mont Ventoux, but everyone is putting what happened at the top of the barren, windswept mountain under a microscope.

Pogačar suffered the slightest of wobbles when Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) powered away near the top of the barren summit, and Pogačar revealed the first chink in his otherwise spotless Tour de France armor.

“You could see that I was following the first couple of hundred of meters, but it was just too much,” Pogačar said. “I cracked a little bit and I dropped really a lot, but I tried to find my own pace.”

The UAE-Team Emirates leader recouped the losses on the descent to the line to widen his lead to 5:18 after Ben O’Connor, who started the day at 2:01, slipped to fifth.

Also read: Pogačar bends but doesn’t break on Ventoux

Under pressure all day from Ineos-Grenadiers, Pogačar shrugged off surges from Richard Carapaz near the top of the second climb up Ventoux, but buckled ever so slightly under the acceleration from Vingegaard.

The young Dane, racing in his first Tour, rode away from the top GC riders, including Pogačar. Realizing that he is nursing a very comfortable lead, and that the stage finished on a long descent, Pogačar wisely eased off the gas.

“I knew it was not so long to the top,” he said. “I knew that I needed to suffer only a few more minutes and I am at the top, and then downhill super-fast. I was lucky to have Carapaz and Urán with me, and we worked well together on the descent. It was a good day in the end.”

Cycling is an odd sport. A rider can sometimes finish even on time, or suffer a bit or even lose time to direct rivals, but widen an overall lead.

That’s what happened Wednesday in the two-climb assault up cycling’s most famous mountain.

Pogačar finished on the same time as Vingegaard, Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) and Rigoberto Urán (EF Education-Nippo), but widened his lead to 5:18 to Urán, with Vingegaard now third at 5:32 and Carapaz fourth at 5:34.

Also read: Vingegaard and his meteoric rise to the Tour

So was it half-full or half-empty for Pogačar?

From his perspective, his Tour de France cup is so full he can afford to spill a little.

“I can say it was a good day,” he said. “We saw Ineos going for the stage win, and they were going super strong. It was not that hard of a pace on the climb, and it was just under the red zone.

“When Vingegaard attacked, I went super deep,” he said. “It was a little bit too much, but I was going super-well, and we went super-fast downhill, so yes I am happy about the day.”

Ineos-Grenadiers tried to apply pressure all day long, putting the team at the front over both climbs of the Ventoux summit. Some wondered why there were taking up the chase so early in the stage, especially when key helper Luke Rowe was gapped off the back.

The pace wasn’t so bad, but it was enough to finally see Pogačar exposed. Jonathan Castroviejo, Michał Kwiatkowski, and Richie Porte drilled the pace to the Chalet Reynard, leaving Pogačar with just Rafal Majka.

When Pogačar was finally exposed, however, Carapaz didn’t have enough juice in the legs to make anything of it.

It was Vingegaard, who is rising to the occasion for Jumbo-Visma after team captain Primož Roglič crashed out, who turned up the heat.

“I  knew it was only a few minutes to the top. I didn’t panic and that was a good thing,” Pogačar said. “If I had panicked, then maybe I would crack even worse. In the end, I didn’t lose so much, and on the downhill, I could push with the other guys.”

If this was Pogačar’s bad day, the fight for the podium might well be underway.