The GC battle of the Tour de France came to a close in the vineyards of Saint-Émilion on Saturday.
Wout van Aert flattened the field with a blazing TT win, while Tadej Pogačar sealed his GC victory by riding into eighth on the stage.
As expected, Jonas Vingegaard was able to better Richard Carapaz to secure second-place in his first-ever grand tour. Ben O’Connor similarly did enough to fend off typically strong time trialist Wilco Kelderman to ride into Paris in fourth overall.
Here’s what the stars said after the final day of classification action of the Tour de France:
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma): Stage winner
Wout van Aert crushed the opposition Saturday, beating back a number of specialists and GC contenders to take his second stage win of the Tour. Along with teammate Jonas Vingegaard, van Aert led a Jumbo-Visma resurgence after the squad lost four riders early in the race.
Van Aert will now head to the Toyko Olympic time trial as one of the top favorites. Despite a long flight to Japan on the near-horizon, van Aert isn’t planning to take his foot off the accelerator just yet. The Belgian all-round ace is hoping to beat the likes of Mark Cavendish and Jasper Philipsen in the Paris sprint Sunday.
“Winning a Tour de France time trial has been one of the biggest objectives of my career. I really focussed on this day in the last couple of days – I’m pleased I could finish it off,” he said.
“It’s been a hard Tour for the team, but we always fought through. Now we have three stage wins, Jonas in second on the GC, which is an amazing result for only four guys left. I’m really proud of how we fought.
“I am motivated for tomorrow as well, we know that Cavendish is the favorite, and he has a very good leadout train. The Champs-Élysées is a special sprint so I am going to try to win the stage tomorrow.”
Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates): Eighth on stage, GC leader
Tadej Pogačar eased his way to eighth on the stage as he sealed his GC victory.
The defending champ rode hard but took no risks on the closing day of GC competition Saturday and will ride into Paris with the yellow jersey on his back and a massive 5:20 lead overall.
Unlike in the 2020 Tour, there was no doubt that Pogačar would finish stage 20 leading the race. Last year, Pogačar defied the odds to overturn a 57-second deficit on Primož Roglič and steal the yellow jersey at the very last.
This year, the 22-year-old has worn yellow since stage 8 and has rarely looked in trouble since.
Pogačar was guided to victory Saturday by UAE-Team Emirates sport director Allan Peiper. Peiper had missed much of the race after staying home as he recovered from recent cancer treatment.
“I am super happy it is finished. Actually, it was a very fast ITT. There was so much support over the course. I was enjoying every kilometer, even if it was very hot and I was suffering a bit. I was going flat-out, but it was different to the first ITT, on which there was more adrenaline, but I was well prepared anyway and it still was a super performance,” Pogačar said.
“I can’t compare both Tour de France GC victories. I can’t say which one is more beautiful. Last year everything was decided on the last ITT and the emotions were by far stronger. This time, I took the yellow jersey quite earlier. It has been totally different.
“Today I saw Allan [Peiper] for the first time since January. I was super happy to see him. It was already a lot of emotions before the start. It has been great to ride the ITT with his support, and the support of the team, my family, my friends… I will think about what this means in the future. For the moment, I am just very happy.”
Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-Quick-Step): 66th on stage, points classification leader
Green jersey-wearing Mark Cavendish finished 4:12 down on van Aert.
The Manxman’s goal for the day was to save energy and stay safe ahead of the final stage into Paris. Cavendish will be aiming to score his fifth victory of the Tour on Sunday to make it 35 career victories in total and break the all-time stage win record. He is also set to secure his second-ever green jersey in Paris. Cavendish has won four times on the iconic Champs-Élysées and is highly-tipped for the stage win Sunday.
Cavendish thanked his team after the likes of Michael Morkov and Tim Declercq had both led him out to stage victories and paced him through the toughest mountain stages.
“The ITT has been okay for me. It was very flat, so I just tried to stay aerodynamic in order to save energy. I’m already thinking of tomorrow. I hope for a stage win. As with every stage, there are many teams who haven’t won yet and will battle for victory,” Cavendish said.
“It will normally come down to a sprint on the Champs-Elysées. I will just try to win this bike race. It is great to arrive in Paris with the full team, and three guys placing top-10 on the ITT. I’m still very grateful they supported me so much in the mountains.
“I’m impressed with Tadej Pogačar both as a rider and as a person. He is a nice little kid, always smiling and in a good mood. All these young guys like Vingegaard, Van der Poel and Pogacar himself are great. I am happy I got to share peloton with them.”
Chris Froome (Israel Start-Up Nation): 123rd on stage, 134th on GC
Chris Froome rolled to the finish over five minutes slower than van Aert.
The four-time Tour champion had crashed on the opening day of this year’s race, making his return to the Tour even tougher after struggling with his career-shaping injury for the best part of two years. Few expected the returning 36-year-old to be competitive in this year’s race, and some will consider him making it to Paris to be a victory in itself.
This year’s Tour is the first that Froome will have finished since 2018 when he placed second behind teammate Geraint Thomas.
On his feelings when he will arrive in Paris on Sunday: I’ll have to see when I get there but of course, I’ll be in a very different position to how I’ve been there previously. The last few times I’ve gone to the Champs Elysees I’ve either been wearing yellow or riding in with a teammate in yellow, so it’s going to be very different, but enjoyable nonetheless to get to the end of this three weeks.
On his race schedule: Nothing’s really been decided yet for the rest of the season. We’ll make that call after a few days off after this. Then I’ll get my head together with the team and make a decision on what to do for the rest of the season. Potentially the Vuelta, potentially something else we haven’t really decided yet.