Tadej Pogacar produced one of the great Tour de France performances to blow apart his rivals and take hold of the yellow jersey on a sodden day in the Alps. The 22-year-old Slovenian, who is the Tour’s reigning champion, added to his blossoming legacy in the sport with a solo attack which none of the other general classification contenders could match, despite Ineos rider Richard Carapaz’s best efforts, and even at this early point it is hard to imagine anyone else riding down the Champs-Elysees in two weeks’ time wearing the maillot jaune.
The Tour de France is a simple concept but the race to Paris can be won in myriad ways. Recent history has always leant towards the methodical – think of Team Sky’s gradual erosion of the pack, of Chris Froome’s stubborn style, of Geraint Thomas’s accumulation of bonus seconds in 2018 – but the new generation do things a little differently. Mathieu van der Poel grabbed the yellow jersey by ruthless attack earlier this week and Pogacar ripped it off his back here in similarly fearless and captivating style, as if winning was not just an outcome but a performance and the road was his stage.
Pogacar may not have the strongest teammates around him but that again goes against the prevailing thinking of recent years. Rather than slowly grinding the pack into submission as a group, he took it upon himself to ride solo and ask a question: can you live with me? Geraint Thomas and Primoz Roglic slid off the back, nowhere to be seen come the finish, perhaps feeling the effects of crashes in a hectic week. Carapaz tried to stay in touch but even the former Giro champion couldn’t stand the pace for long.
And it wasn’t simply a senseless surge. Pogacar lifted his foot off the pedal on the final treacherous descent in the rain, passing up the possibility of catching eventual winner Dylan Teuns. Instead he re-linked with Ion Izaguirre and Michael Woods, two riders he’d blasted past on the final climb, as they rode home together. Pogacar may be young but he already has the wisdom to know there are bigger fights ahead.
“It was during the stage that I made the decision to attack,” a calm Pogacar said afterwards. “I saw that the Ineos were not too strong in legs, they wasted energy in the final yesterday. I felt it was the right time, so I went.”
He will wear yellow tomorrow with a 1min 48sec lead at the top of the general classification from Wout van Aert. His nearest realistic challengers, Alexey Lutsenko, Rigoberto Uran, Richard Carapaz and Enric Mas, are all around five minutes back, an astonishing gap at this early stage, and right now it feels like by how much, rather than if, Pogacar will retain his crown.
It was all a bit unfair on Teuns, whose stage win was sensational in itself. He handled the conditions masterfully and timed his attack precisely to open up a sizeable lead on the final climb, taking plenty of risks to earn the second Tour stage of his career. It was a second win for Bahrain-Victorious after Matej Mohoric’s on Friday, and there was a double celebration with Wout Poels moving into the king of the mountain’s jersey.
“It’s super amazing,” said Teuns, who dedicated the win to his late grandfather. “Until now I had a difficult year, I had some goals but I never came close, so finally I can celebrate.”
Sunday’s stage 9 is the final stint before Monday’s first rest day and it is another brute in the Alps. For those with weary legs it is an intimidating 149km ride to a summit finish at Tignes; for Pogacar it could be another chance to stamp his authority on this famous race.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies