Tour de France 2020

Pogačar to prove a thorn in Jumbo-Visma’s side through final week of Tour de France

Young Slovenian proving resilient and uncontrollable despite rival's best efforts.

Jumbo-Visma cracked Egan Bernal and blew away Nairo Quintana. They reeled in a speculative attack from Adam Yates and ground the kick out of the legs of Mikel Landa and Rigoberto Uran. The Dutch squad swatted aside late attacks from Richie Porte.

But Sunday’s 15th stage of the Tour de France proved there’s one man Jumbo-Visma can’t control: Tadej Pogačar.

Just as he did in Laruns on stage 9, Pogačar pipped Primoz Roglič to the line atop the Grand Colombier on Sunday, and if it weren’t for the pesky 21-year-old, Roglič would now be on a hat trick of victories having also won on the Orcieres-Merlette.

The tenacious youngster could well become a thorn embedded deep in the Jumbo-Visma’s side through the mountainous final week.

Having formed an alliance in their two-up time trial to the line at Puy Mary, Roglič made it clear after the stage Sunday that he had wanted to beat Pogačar in the final kick atop the hors categorie Colombier, admitting, “he was stronger, so chapeau to him.”

Pogačar is proving a tough nut for Jumbo-Visma to crack, standing defiant while former grand tour champions Egan Bernal and Nairo Quintana have wilted.

“Pogačar is at 40 seconds and he’s tough,” Jumbo-Visma sport director Grischa Niermann told NOS on Sunday. “He knows he only has to follow Primož, but luckily we are 40 seconds ahead. That will be very exciting in the coming days.”

Despite being outnumbered by the masses of Jumbo-Visma riders around him, Pogačar has repeatedly illustrated he’s willing to attack where necessary, snatching 40 seconds in his raid over the Peyresourde, while knowing when to wait until the time is right when the odds are against him.

“Jumbo-Visma was really prepared for today. In my point of view, there was no point to attack,” Pogačar said after snatching the win away from Roglič in the final 100 meters of Sunday’s stage.

Pogačar and Roglič are the men to beat – but can Pogačar pip his countryman? Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

After snatching a few more bonus seconds, just 40 seconds divide the Slovenian pair at the top of the GC. Pogačar doesn’t have much ground to regain, and has three mountain stages and a tough uphill time trial to do it on. While insisting that his injury-plagued six-man UAE-Team Emirates outfit has the strength to defend the yellow jersey, Pogačar ideally hopes to slip into the lead on the individual test against the clock on the Planches des Belles Filles, but isn’t going to pass up any opportunities beforehand.

“The perfect scenario would be to take it on the evening of the final time trial, but we live in a real world, and if there’s a chance to take it, I will try,” Pogačar said Sunday.

Having firmly swatted Ineos Grenadiers to one side, Jumbo-Visma will be turning its attentions to attempting to control the seemingly uncontrollable Pogačar through the final week.

Though the Dutch team throttled the race on Sunday with massive pulls from Wout van Aert and Tom Dumoulin, the 21-year-old was still able to find a chink in their yellow-and-black armor on the Grand Colombier. And with Pogačar bettering Roglič by nine seconds at the national time trial championships back in June, Jumbo-Visma can’t afford to have their explosive rival continuing to claw back handfuls of seconds the way he did on Sunday.

“We are far from there,” Niermann said of his squad’s lead on Sunday. “But we are in very good shape as a team, because we should not be attacked from all sides. After today we can say that we are the strongest team in the race.”

There’s a sense that nobody knows what to expect after the Tour’s second rest day on Monday, or how well the legs will cope with the two consecutive summit finishes to come on Tuesday and Wednesday, with the latter closing out on the brutal Col de la Loze.

“You saw today, Primož had a lot of self-confidence, but Pogačar turns out to be just a bit too strong,” Dumoulin said on Sunday. “We have to be careful. It can just change in the last week and we have to watch out for that. ”

Jumbo-Visma will likely be drawing up strategies for every likely scenario as it prepares to fend off Pogačar in the Alps. The problem they have is that not even the 21-year-old knows what he’s going to do.

“I don’t know what to expect after the rest day,” Pogačar said. “This is the Tour. I’ve prepared well but we have to see what could happen. I could explode, or I could go really well.”

Jumbo-Visma’s road to Paris has a Pogačar-shaped obstacle firmly in the middle of the lane.