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Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) had never cracked before.
Not in two Tour de France wins or countless other races throughout his short but astonishing career. However on stage 11 of this year’s Tour de France the Slovenian finally showed that he is not unbeatable, not only losing ground on his rivals but slipping out of yellow with his entire race challenge now in the balance.
With just 5.4km to go on the final climb of the Col du Granon the unthinkable happened when Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) kicked clear of a group containing the last survivors of the yellow jersey group. At that point the race was down to just a handful of riders with Pogačar protected by his trusted domestique Rafal Majka. Geraint Thomas and Adam Yates were present for Ineos Grenadiers, while Romain Bardet flew the flag for Team DSM.
Having been attacked from all sides on the previous climbs, and even responding in kind with his own assault on the Galibier, Pogacar was unable to respond when Vingegaard kicked, and almost in an instant the yellow jersey was suffering, and unable to hold the wheel as Geraint Thomas and several other riders inched by the yellow jersey.
Majka had tried to initially lift the pace and reel in Vingegaard but it was clear that the race leader was on his knees. He had looked so comfortable in the valley before the climb, even joking with the television cameras. But like many grand tour winners in the past, such as Miguel Indurain and Jan Ullrich, when Pogačar cracked the race dynamic completely changed.
Vingegaard would win the stage and take the yellow jersey for the first time in his career, while Nairo Quintana finished second. Bardet finished third at 1:10, with Thomas at 1:38 having dropped Pogačar well before the summit.
Pogačar would eventually crawl home at 2:51 and drop to third overall at 2:22.
There will be inevitable questions around Pogačar’s health with three of his teammates down with COVID-19 and two of them out of the race with the virus.