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Tour de France

Tour de France roundtable: Did Pogačar win or Roglič lose?

Time to unpack a scintillating and surprising Tour de France: Did we miss Froome and Thomas? Did the route pack a punch? And what determined the final victor?

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The dust has settled, and we’re all just about recovered from a Tour de France packed with plot-twists and pandemonium, from Egan Bernal’s burn-out to that time trial by Tadej Pogačar.

Now we’ve caught our breath, what are the big takes from this year’s Tour?

Did the three-week narrative of the Tour suggest Pogačar was going to pip Primož Roglič on the very last day of racing?

Did the race lack something in the absence of some of the era’s grand tour greats? And what of the Tour’s unconventional and unpredictable route?

Time to unpack the 2020 Tour de France – let’s roundtable!

Did Pogačar win the Tour or did Roglič and Jumbo-Visma lose it?

Could Jumbo-Visma have done more in the opening weeks? Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images

Andrew Hood (@eurohoody): If Pogačar had had a mediocre time trial and Roglič had punctured or botched the bike change, then you could make some sort of argument that Jumbo-Visma lost it. Pogačar attacked in every mountain stage, was better or equal to Roglič in every critical stage except on Col de la Loze, and crushed everyone in the final TT. Everyone thought 57 seconds was enough for Roglič, and probably 9 out of 10 times it would be. Pogacar had the legs when it counted, and Roglič was flat. Pogačar won — end of debate.

Jim Cotton (@jim_c_1985): I think this year’s Tour is an example of the fact that cycling is a team sport that’s won by individuals. Jumbo-Visma had the strongest team for sure, but when it counted most, Pogačar was simply stronger. That time trial was a pure test of fitness, and Pog totally dominated it. The fact that both Pogačar and Richie Porte both arrived in Paris on the podium is a testament to the fact that the age-old Sky tactic of throttling the race with a mountain train doesn’t work unless you can really crush a rival when it comes down to a mano-a-mano battle, like Chris Froome did in his pomp. Roglič rarely put more than a few seconds into Pogačar in those mountaintop sprints. Also, Jumbo-Visma letting Pogačar go on the rampage and gain back 40 seconds over the Peyresourde was a big error.

James Startt: Both. Jumbo-Visma certainly lost the Tour. And the most glaring example was when they let Pogačar gain back so much of the time he lost on the stage in the wind, where he got caught behind a split on the stage to Lavaur. Any time you get a gift like that in the Tour de France, you don’t give it back. But then perhaps they simply were not strong enough and could not control Pogačar. At times it looked like Roglič and Jumbo-Visma were not too concerned by his attacks since he was well down in the standings going into the Pyrénées. But in the end, I think they simply could not control Pogačar because he was too strong. Over the three weeks, he was consistently stronger than Roglič. Not including the tactical error in the wind, Pogačar only really got dropped by Roglič once, on the stage up the Col de la Loze. But he only lost a handful of seconds.

Did the Tour’s modern, unpredictable route deliver the fireworks expected?

The Col de la Loze was a new addition to the race for 2020. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

James: No, not really. Why? Because an exciting race still depends largely on the riders. Last year’s course was less exciting on paper. But you had Alaphilippe that kept surprising everybody and turning the tables on the favorites, and you never really knew just how far he would go. This year’s race in comparison was very linear, with Jumbo-Visma dominating and dictating most of the race…until the final time trial of course! But while many comparisons have been made between this year’s Tour and that of 1989, when Greg LeMond grabbed the yellow jersey on the last day, one thing that was very different was the sense of an all-out battle throughout the three weeks. LeMond and Fignon were fighting for the yellow jersey the entire three weeks, and it went back and forth several times. That didn’t happen this year.

Andrew: Yes and no. ASO is happily pleased with this Tour, and rightly so. Not only was the racing stunning, but they pushed it all the way to Paris without disruption. By having no TT’s early in the route, the organizers did keep a lid on time differences. Until Puy Mary, the only significant differences were gaps caused by echelons and time bonuses. It’s ultimately how the riders race any course that decides the dynamics. Jumbo-Visma had a plan to bulldoze its way through this Tour, and if it wasn’t for Pogačar, it probably would have been quite boring. Having said that, 2020 was a prime example of a “modern” grand tour. Personally, I dig it, but I also think a prologue, a team time trial, and even a shorter individual time trial earlier in the route still have their place, not to mention cobbles!

Jim: I enjoyed the way the race was continually varying between mountains and flat stages, though I do think the second week fell a bit flat when there were three sprinter-oriented days in a row where not a massive amount happened in the GC. However, as everyone says, a race is made exciting by the way it’s raced, and the closing time trial is evidence of that. If Pogačar had hit that first intermediate time check and had already lost one minute on Roglič, the end of the Tour would have been a big anticlimax, but Pogačar’s ride made it a day of racing I won’t forget in a long time. On a more granular note, I was a big fan of the Col de la Loze. More of that, please.

Did the GC fight lose spark with the flaming out of Bernal, Pinot, and Quintana, and the absence of Thomas, Froome, and Nibali?

Bernal cracked on the Grand Colombier and abandoned a few stages later. Photo: James Startt

Jim: I think the way the top six eventually shook out is perhaps a sign of things to come. With the exception of Porte, those guys are all the newer generation of grand tour riders. Froome, Nibali, Thomas, and Quintana represent an era that is in its twilight now. Having a handful more big hitters in the race would have added a certain gravitas to the action though – I would particularly have liked to see how Nibali might have fared on such an “attackers” route. But that would likely have meant we didn’t get to see Richie pull out his career-defining third, and that was one of the stories of the race.

James: Well there was definitely a mid-race lull as Jumbo-Visma appeared unstoppable. But in the end, there was plenty of spark because the finale was so stunning and so explosive. And again, once the dust settles and we have some perspective, I think several sub-plots will come to the surface. Ineos and Bernal were the biggest victims of the re-booted calendar and they totally miscalculated. Bernal’s collapse, and even Roglic’s final faltering, can be attributed to racing too hard, too early once racing resumed. But Roglič and Bernal were winning races in early August. Both faded in September.

Andrew: As the great Adam Yates said, “It is what it is.” Sure, having some of those bigger names there would have spiced things up. Bernal’s absence was the most noteworthy, but Ineos Grenadiers had something off-kilter almost from the start. I think Thomas would have been in the thick of things, probably taking the final podium spot. Pinot? What a shame. Everyone loves that guy, but something always happens.