Since the race resumed Tuesday, Pogačar has won back-to-back mountain stages and holds close to a six-minute advantage at the top of the overall classification. If that wasn’t enough, he’s secured the mountains classification for the second consecutive year.
He went into the final week of the Grand Boucle with a comfortable lead of just over five minutes and nothing to prove. Yet, the Slovenian has bashed down any potential obstacle between himself and the finish line in Paris.
Also read: Tadej Pogačar crushes climb to Luz Ardiden
The two big Pyrenean tests in the Tour de France’s third week were the last major opportunities for Pogačar’s rivals to rattle the yellow jersey. Jonas Vingegaard had put Pogačar on the ropes on the Mont Ventoux in week two, but he and the other pretenders to the throne would need much more if they had any hope of unseating the Slovenian.
Jumbo-Visma and Ineos Grenadiers threw what they could at Pogačar, but nothing stuck.
Instead, for the first time in this year’s Tour de France, UAE-Team Emirates appeared to have a firm grip on the race. Rafał Majka, who very nearly had to leave the Tour after picking up a serious injury in a crash during the second week, put in his ride of the race to set his team leader up.
There have been question marks over the team’s performance throughout the Tour de France, but credit where credit is due, UAE-Team Emirates stepped up to the plate in this final pair of mountain stages.
Pogačar rewarded the efforts with apparent ease but not before playing with his competitors on the steep summit finishes of the Col du Portet and Luz Ardiden. Like a cat with its prey, he toyed with his rivals before issuing the killer blow in the final few hundred meters.
“It’s unbelievable yeah. After yesterday, today, I don’t know, but I felt good and I’m really happy with the win. Of course, it’s a game for me since I started. I’m enjoying playing it. I’m super happy,” Pogačar said after winning on Luz Ardiden.
“It was super hard, already Tourmalet was a pace where you sit on the wheel and forget about everything and just focus. Then the last climb, that was the maximum.”
A wide winning margin
With Saturday’s time trial, a discipline used to great effect in his battle for victory in 2020, Pogačar could be on course to extend his gap even further. He also has an opportunity to take his third win in a week, and his fourth of the race.
Even without the time trial to look forward to, Pogačar is well on his way to winning the Tour de France by the biggest margin since Vincenzo Nibali’s whopping 7:39 victory over Jean-Christophe Péraud back in 2014.
Also read: Getting the shot: Pogačar in the fog
The crashes and chaos of this opening week of this year’s Tour de France has left an indelible mark on the GC competition, putting Pogačar’s biggest rival, Primož Roglič, down and out in the first week. Meanwhile, the quadruple threat of Ineos Grenadiers was almost immediately cut down to a single challenger through injuries and time losses.
In the end, those that were spared by the pile-ups did not have the legs to take the race to Pogačar. That is not to say his win has been easy; this is the Tour de France and nothing comes easy, but the winning margin may be somewhat greater than it would have been had the opening week played out differently.
There is no point wondering what might have been, however, and Pogačar has delivered a superb race thus far. All he can hope for now is that the curse of the crashes isn’t going to bite him late on and that he has an uncomplicated ride into Paris.
Despite his overwhelming lead, Pogačar is maintaining a slightly cautious outlook – at least to the media.
“Maybe 50 [percent] you never know. It’s still three days but yeah, it feels good,” Pogačar said when he was asked what his chances were of riding into Paris in yellow. “For the time trial, we will see. It’s a discipline where I always want to do my best, even though you can have a really bad day in the TT. It will be a new experience and I cannot wait for it.”
Pogačar more than anyone knows what can go wrong for a rider, or more accurately what can go right, on a time trial after he demolished Roglič in the discipline last year.
“Let’s hope not, but maybe. You can lose 6 minutes in a TT. It’s happened before,” he said when asked if he thought he might be on the receiving end of something similar this year.
Pogačar has hardly put a foot wrong during this Tour de France and this final week looks like a victory lap for the Slovenian. Let’s hope that he doesn’t stumble at the last.