Anything Tadej Pogačar wants at the 2021 Tour de France he takes.
Or so it seems.
On a massive, final half-kilometer attack, the defending Tour champion scored second consecutive stage win — and third stage victory — by winning Thursday’s stage 18 to Luz Ardiden. The Slovenian seemed to toy with his completion on the steep slopes of the climb, after letting the race come together following the descent from the Col du Tourmalet. With the win Pogačar padded his lead in the yellow and white jersey competitions, and took over the lead of the polka-dot jersey race as well.
With only a sprint stage, an individual time trial, and a final sprint stage in Paris remaining, it’s unlikely the yellow jersey and the white jersey and the polka dots jersey will change hands, however, the race for second and third on the GC is very close, and many riders are still looking for a stage win.
Here’s what the stars said after the final mountain stage of the Tour:
Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step): 78th, at 19:54
The Frenchman in the world champion’s rainbow jersey was again active in the breakaway, and only distanced on the final slopes to the top of the Tourmalet. His work came back to haunt him in the final 20 kilometers of the stage, and he shipped massive amounts of time on the climb to Luz Ardiden.
Alapanache will be again on domestique duty for teammate Mark Cavendish on stages 19 and 21, as Cav tries to surpass Eddy Merckx’s 34 career Tour stage wins.
“I was keen to give everything. Yesterday [Wednesday], I was a little on the reserve thinking about today,” he said. “I raced as if it was the last stage — no regrets! It’s a shame that we couldn’t get more ahead. Afterward, I couldn’t wait for it to end.”
Ben O’Connor (AG2R- Citroën): 8th, at :34
Ben O’Connor rode in the breakaway, and showed well on all but the final few kilometers of the climb to Luz Ardiden. He’s been steadily moving up the overall ranking as other riders slotted in and out ahead of him over the past two weeks. For his perseverance, O’Connor was rewarded with a fourth place in the GC when Rigoberto Urán tumbled to 10th on the GC.
“It was a good day for me and the team. I am just dragging myself as far as I can up each mountain. I like this kind of racing, you’ve seen me suffering, maybe not being the most special looking rider, but I am still sitting fourth, and it’s special for me,” O’Connor said.
Wilco Kelderman (Bora-Hansgrohe): 9th, at :34
Wilco Kelderman is another rider who’s benefitted from persistence and consistency in this year’s Tour. He’s cracked the top-five with consecutive strong finishes in the mountains.
A crash on the previous stage was a minor setback, and the Dutch rider admitted he was not on his best form, but continued to ride strongly, with Paris just three days away.
“It wasn’t a great day for me, I was still feeling a bit sore after yesterday’s crash. There was a big battle until the finish, it was the last mountain stage, so it was an all-out fight,” Kelderman said. “I’ll give my absolute best in the fight for GC positioning. I think I have the possibility of edging up one spot but even if I don’t make it, fifth overall is also a good result. We’ll see, the final, big clash will come on Saturday [in the time trial].”
David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ): 19th, at 2:50
David Gaudu was out for the stage win, and over the Col du Tourmalet the Frenchman scored a few KOM points behind compatriot Pierre Latour. Gaudu has been active in the climbing stages, and has shown his descending prowess. Stage 18 was no exception, however, with the entire GC breathing down his neck, the advantage he gained on the back side of the Tourmalet was all for naught.
“We tried, unfortunately, it didn’t work for the stage victory. At the bottom of the Tourmalet, there was a lot of headwind and Pierre [Latour] could not take my wheel in the descent. In any case, we had a lot of fun on this stage,” Gaudu said. “There are only four of us left but we wanted to shine.”