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As he did in the Pyrenees, Pogačar attacked again and again on the steep slopes of the dormant volcano, and his aggression created a split along national lines.
The surges dropped Colombian riders Egan Bernal, Rigoberto Urán, and Nairo Quintana, and drew out countryman Primož Roglič. The two then matched each other up the final two kilometers of the climb to put valuable time on their rivals behind.
“I felt good, and I knew the final climb, so I tried to attack,” Pogačar said after the stage. “Roglič followed me and I saw he was the only one who could follow, so I said to him, ‘Come on, we go,’ and we rode to the top together, full gas. It was a good day.”
The alliance paid off for Pogačar. He started Friday’s multi-climb monster in the Massif Central seventh overall, 44 seconds back. Now, he’s in second place overall, having leapfrogged his Colombian rivals.
Pogačar’s aggression in this race stems from necessity. On stage 7 he lost 1:21 after being gapped in the crosswinds by Team Ineos Grenadiers in the push to Lavaur. Since then he’s been on the move to try and erase that deficit.
It’s a strategy of aggression that has breathed fresh life into this year’s Tour de France. Coming into the race, most fans had their eyes on the heavyweight battle between Jumbo-Visma and Ineos Grenadiers, with Roglič vs. Bernal billed as the big fight for yellow. Now, Pogačar has emerged as the biggest challenger to Roglič’s yellow jersey, having dropped Bernal convincingly on Friday’s stage.
He’s also established himself as perhaps the best climber in this year’s race, and that fact could create more fireworks in the day’s to come. This Tour de France heads into the high Alps on Sunday, with four consecutive stages that take in big climbs. Pogačar’s attacks could wear down even the most seasoned GC contenders in the days to come.
Pogačar’s legs and his attitude appear to help him on the big climbs.
“On the last climb, I told myself I was going to give everything,” Pogačar said. “We managed to gain a few seconds on the others riding with Roglič.”
The pair traded turns as they continued to distance Bernal and the GC group that staggered up the steep slopes behind them as they team time trialed to the line, some six minutes behind stage winner Daniel Martínez.
“Today I saw that Roglič was very strong,” Pogačar said. “I had to push very hard to follow him.”
Roglič appeared happy to have Pogačar with him for the final push to the line. The two are rivals but also friends, having both scored breakthrough results at last year’s Vuelta a España. Roglič won the overall while Pogačar attacked his way into 3rd place overall.
“For me it was a Slovenian day and I’m super happy with the way it went,” Roglič said after the race. “I’m super happy that we are now one-two Slovenians in front of the Colombians in that case.”
Roglič and Pogačar came out on top after an unlikely national alliance on the Puy Mary. However, when it comes down to a mano-a-mano brawl in the decisive final stages, there’s going to be no favors or shared wheels. But that’s not a problem for Pogačar, who knows what he’s going to do no matter what the scenario.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the Alps, but I am going to continue to attack,” he said. “Full-gas.”