Tadej Pogačar had better get comfortable in his new yellow jersey, because he could be wearing it for some days yet.
The defending champion throttled his Tour de France opponents on stage 8 into Le Grand-Bornand with a rocketing attack at 30km to go that left Richard Carapaz for dead and saw the breakaway blowing in his draft.
With Wout van Aert the unlikely lead chaser in the GC pack and Pogačar’s remaining classification rivals languishing five minutes down after Geraint Thomas and Primož Roglič dropped out of contention, Pogačar took a major step toward the Paris podium Saturday.
GC after stage 8:
- Tadej Pogacar: Yellow jersey
- Wout van Aert: +1:48
- Alexey Lutsenko: +4:38
- Rigoberto Urán +4:46
- Jonas Vingegaard +5:00
- Richard Carapaz: +5:01
- Wilco Kelderman: +5:13
- Enric Mas: 5:15
Although Pogačar made a huge statement with his legs Saturday, he was careful not to admit the race was his for the winning.
“I did not kill the Tour today, sorry,” Pogačar said after the stage.
“We are confident, we have a nice gap, but there are still two weeks. Maybe tomorrow someone else can take time – we are in a good place now.”
Although Pogačar was tamping down the expectation, both he and his UAE Emirates teammates landed a hammerblow on the Tour in the very first mountain stage of the race.
Only Friday, the Emirati outfit had looked tattered and scattered. Brandon McNulty, Rui Costa and Davide Formolo rallied in style Saturday, slimming down the GC group on the Col de Romme to set up their leader’s winning move.
“In the end, I felt good in this weather,” Pogačar said. “I decided before the last three climbs and I said to my teammates ‘let’s try to break the race,’ and we did it. Brandon, Rui and Formolo did such an amazing job and I just took off.”
Much like Friday, UAE Team Emirates was put under pressure early in the stage as the race exploded over the road, and Pogačar and Co. were forced into working as Ineos Grenadiers hitched a ride behind.
However, unlike in the marathon stage 7, UAE Team Emirates wasn’t to be bullied. When Ineos Grenadiers tried to take control on the Romme, UAE Team Emirates snatched it right back to position Pogačar for his sledgehammer attack.
“After yesterday, everyone was racing against us – today I went all-in to make a gap because I know it will be like this every day that they will try to take some time off of me,” Pogačar said. “Today I had opportunity to take time, attack is the best defense.”
— @UAE-TeamEmirates (@TeamEmiratesUAE) July 3, 2021
It’s hard to see who can unlock Pogačar’s crushing GC lead at this stage of the race.
Van Aert is the closest but his time losses in the mountains Saturday suggested he’s a classics and CX star rather than a climber for a reason.
Can Rigoberto Urán, Richard Carapaz or van Aert’s Jumbo-Visma teammate Jonas Vingegaard claw Pogačar back?
With 13 stages remaining Carapaz and Co. have time on their side and plenty of mountains to play with. But after Pogačar pounded the opposition in the mid-week TT and pummeled them in the Alps this weekend, the peloton will collectively need to repeat Friday’s feat and isolate Pogačar’s in a bid to make a race-shifting coup.
Pogačar doesn’t sound too worried about anyone else right now.
“Yes, I think yes. We will see,” he laughed when asked if he was his only GC rival.
“Day by day, now we are in yellow we are ready to defend because we showed today we are a super-strong team.”
Pogačar looked untouchable and UAE Emirates didn’t look so breakable Saturday.
Jumbo-Visma and Ineos Grenadiers could be up all night trying to figure out what to do next.