The 21-year-old Slovenian lit up the Pyrénées, challenged Primož Roglič on the Puy Mary, and enters Sunday’s decisive HC summit finish at Grand Colombier just 44 ticks of the second hand out of the yellow jersey.
Is UAE-Team Emirates and Pogačar daring to dream of overall victory? The answer is an emphatic yes.
“I asked Tadej if he is content with second place, and he said no,” said UAE-Emirates sport director Allan Peiper. “It’s 44 seconds, he’s in second place, and there’s only one place to go.”
Sunday’s climb up the Colombier, in what’s the first time the Tour has finished atop the stony spine in the Jura Mountains, will reveal Pogačar’s chances of taking that final step on the GC ladder.
Everyone is expecting a solidification of the GC hierarchy in the first hors categorie summit finish in the 2020 Tour.
Pogačar faces the challenge of racing out-manned against a superior Jumbo-Visma. UAE teammates Fabio Aru and Davide Formolo are both out of the race, leaving Pogačar to mostly fend for himself Sunday on the final upper reaches of the climb.
“We look for opportunities to see when we can move, and maybe take that first place off Roglč,” Peiper said. “He’s coming up against a warrior with Roglič, who seems like he has an impenetrable armor with his team, and he’s shown no sign of weakness so far.”
UAE-Emirates sport director Peiper — who helped guide Ryder Hesjedal to victory in the 2012 Giro d’Italia — is trying to find the right balance to give Pogačar support when it counts while also allowing him freedom to move.
“It’s really important we keep our feet on the ground,” Peiper said. “It was a blow to lose really good teammates for the overall general plan. We have to adapt to every situation, and we just have to chip away at that every day and use our resources wisely. And hopefully the race will fall our way.”
So far, it’s been Pogačar who’s been tilting the race his way.
Despite losing time in the crosswinds at the end of the first week — or perhaps because of that lost time — Pogačar uncorked a string of searing attacks in the Pyrénées to wrestle his way back into the top-5.
Up the Puy Mary on Friday, he was the only rider strong enough to stay with the highly efficient, piston-like rhythm set by Roglič. The Slovenian pair gapped Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), and Pogačar enters Sunday’s next battle poised in second place.
“We changed the expectations after the Pyrénées,” Peiper said. “There are limits, because Roglič is leading by 44 seconds. He’s been the only rider who’s attacked in the Tour de France. I am expecting some movement from some of the other favorites.”
Despite sitting near the top of the standings in the most important race in the world in just his first try, Pogačar isn’t letting the enormity of what’s at stake get to him too much.
“He’s always laughing and joking. Every day he has a smile on his face,” Peiper said. “When it’s an important stage, he’s a little more moderate. There is pressure there, but he doesn’t let him affect him too much.”
Much has been made about the friendship between Pogačar and Roglič, and it will be interesting how it impacts their Tour tactics.
At the Vuelta last year, Pogačar was able to attack for stage wins behind Roglič’s GC domination. A similar scenario is playing out at this Tour, but with Pogačar emerging as Jumbo-Visma’s most direct and dangerous rival, Roglič might not be so generous.
When Pogačar moved in the Pyrénées, Roglič was quick to mark his wheel. And with finish line bonuses still a factor, neither will be willing to let friendship get in the way of the yellow jersey.
“There is a lot of respect for each other,” Peiper said. “They are good friends. They’re not going to stand in each other’s way, but they’re not going to help each other either. It’s going to be a very exciting final week.”