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Wout van Aert resilient, Tadej Pogačar reigns: Tirreno-Adriatico stars react after summit showdown

Here's what van Aert, Pogačar, Egan Bernal, Geraint Thomas and Simon Yates said after Saturday's mountaintop finish.

Stage 4 of Tirreno-Adriatico was expected to produce fireworks, and the race exploded in style on the Prato di Tivo summit finish.

Tadej Pogačar reigned supreme with a five-kilometer attack that landed him the stage win and GC advantage, while Wout van Aert got his first taste of attempting to defend a leader’s jersey while being squeezed at all sides. The long grinding climb Saturday also gave us a look at the form of Egan Bernal, Geraint Thomas and Simon Yates as they pedal toward their big goals at the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France this summer.

Race report: Tadej Pogačar attacks his way to stage win and GC lead at Tirreno-Adriatico

Here’s what the stars said after the mountaintop mayhem Saturday:

Wout van Aert: Second overall after defiant defense of classification lead

Van Aert towed the GC group through the top of the climb to limit his GC losses. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Wout van Aert was put under pressure by a flurry of attacks in the final 10km as he looked to defend his overnight GC lead. With Ineos Grenadiers riders and then Tadej Pogačar shooting up the mountain ahead of him, the burly Belgian was forced into towing a host of classification contenders through the final kilometers in an effort to limit his losses. Van Aert’s resilient time trial left him ninth on the day and second overall, 35 seconds back on Pogačar.

“I am happy with my performance today, I squeezed the maximum out of it. The competition started attacking early on, which made the stage very difficult. I rode a constant pace, something that suits my abilities best. I caught a lot of wind and that made it difficult. In the beginning, I hoped for support from other riders, but I quickly realized that it had to come from myself. In my mind I made it a kind of time trial and gave everything until the end.

“If anyone else had had the blue jersey, I would have been in the wheel too. Now I could not hide and I rode for my classification. It’s only logical that the 2020 Tour winner will take the blue leader’s jersey from me here.”

Tadej Pogačar: GC leader and stage winner with supreme climbing performance

Pogačar took the champagne after a dominant climbing performance. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Tadej Pogačar punched out of the GC group at 5km to go and dropped Geraint Thomas to power away solo. The defending Tour champ was put under pressure by Simon Yates in the closing seconds but was able to last to the line to take the stage and move into the leader’s jersey with a 35-second advantage. It was the Slovenian’s second mountaintop victory of the season having also won on Jebel Hafeet at the UAE Tour before winning the overall last month.

“It was a really good performance today, close to my best performances uphill. I’m happy with my form and the win. It was very fast climbing from start to finish. I went early because attacking early was needed to gain more seconds. Doing so, you can fail but you can also gain a lot. It was a good decision to go early.

“As far as the general classification is concerned, every second advantage is precious, also because tomorrow a very difficult stage awaits us and, also because of the final time trial, the fight for the victory will be balanced.”

Egan Bernal: 11th on the stage after early aggression

Bernal started the final flurry of attacks before fading. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Egan Bernal started the decisive action of the day, attacking at around 8km to go to make the first selection. After a host of GC riders countered and Pogačar attacked, Bernal again made a move to draw out Simon Yates and Mikel Landa. However, once Yates punched clear, the Colombian blew up and dropped to the GC group before being promptly popped out of the back.

The 2019 Tour champ finished 11th on the stage and is out of GC contention. The result continues Bernal’s inconsistent early season as he comes back from injury. The Colombian has also scored podium places at Tour de la Provence and Strade Bianche in the past month.

“It was a very hard day, but a day that leaves me calm with regards to my preparations. I was up there with the others, I tried to attack a couple of times, and that gives me motivation for the following objectives, so I’m happy with my condition and the training I’ve done.

“I’ve trained well. We’re trying to manage the training load, trying to build the condition little by little ahead of the Giro d’Italia. It was a good while since I’d raced – since the Tour last year – and I’ve now done a good block of racing and I believe that’ll give me a boost.”

Geraint Thomas: 12th on the stage after making early moves

Thomas countered Bernal’s move before popping out of the group. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Geraint Thomas countered his teammate Bernal’s first move at around 7km to go and dangled in front of the GC group before Pogačar bridged across, shared a few turns with him, and then blazed away. Thomas was then dropped from the Wout van Aert-led GC group and pedaled home with Bernal to finish 12th on the stage. The Welshman is also out of GC contention.

“I didn’t want to pull on the front because I knew Egan was a bit better today. So, rather than pull on the front, I just attacked and made Van Aert or whoever chase. Unfortunately, Egan didn’t quite have the legs but I’m happy with where I’m at. For me, it’s all on track for July [i.e., the Tour de France].

“I think I’m better than expected. After January I was just sort of riding around Gran Canaria getting the hours in with not too much intensity. So, I’ve really moved on in the last month. It’s nice just to be in the mix and just race a bit differently.”

Simon Yates: 2nd on the stage after late pursuit

Yates made a late move to try to chase down Pogačar but left it too late. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Simon Yates had started the stage way down the classification after losing time on stage 2. The Brit countered Bernal’s second attack to form a trio with the Colombian and Mikel Landa before attacking in the final 2km in an effort to catch Pogačar, who was around 15 seconds ahead.

Yates rapidly pulled back time on the charging Slovenian but ran out of road, crossing the line just six seconds behind Pogačar to finish second on the day.

“It was good today; I am off GC so we were only going for the stage. I tried to play the game, I tried to get other GC guys to bring back any gaps, bring back any guys that were trying to get away and in the end, the mistake was trying to play the game for too long as Pogačar was gone. It was tough to win the stage, but the sensations are good, so I am feeling quite happy.”

Matt White: Team BikeExchange sport director: 
“Very pleasing signs, we came here as part of our preparation for the Giro d’Italia and what we saw was a very impressive climb from Simon. Not quite good enough to catch Pogačar but at the end of the day this is Simon’s first race of the season and he showed he can mix it with the best climbers in the world today.”