Pogacar wins Tour de France defying COVID victory

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PARIS – In a breathtaking performance for the ages, Tour de France rookie Tadej Pogacar won the flagship cycling race on Sunday on the eve of his 22nd birthday, becoming the second youngest winner of the 117-year-old event who this year. year has braved – and overcome – the worsening of the coronavirus epidemic in France.

Transforming from promising prodigy to cycling superstar, Pogacar became the youngest winner since World War II and Slovenia’s first.

His victory is also remarkable for the way in which he sealed it: at the last possible moment, on the penultimate stage before Sunday’s arrival on the Champs-Elysées in Paris. During the three-week cycling marathon over the five French mountain ranges and over 3482 grueling kilometers (2,164 miles), Pogacar held the lead and his iconic yellow jersey for just one stage – the last and most important to Paris, with a yellow bike to match.

Pogacar knocked out the race and Slovenian compatriot Primoz Roglic by pulling off the yellow jersey he wore for 11 days in a dramatic time trial on Saturday.

Their 1-2 is the first for a country since Britons Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome also took the top spots in the 2012 Tour. Australian Richie Porte completed the podium this year, at 35, after his brilliant counter- the watch that lifted him from fourth to third place overall.

Irish rider Sam Bennett won the prestigious final sprint on the Champs-Elysées, giving him his second stage victory on this Tour. He also won the green jersey of the race, awarded for having collected the most points in the sprints during and at the finish of the stages.

With jets dragging plumes of red, white and blue smoke above runners as they raced the Champs-Elysees, lined with French tricolor flags, the Tour was also celebrating a victory – over the coronavirus.

When the race, delayed due to the outbreak from its usual location in July, left the start town of Nice three weeks ago, it was uncertain whether runners could remain virus-free until the arrival.

But none of the 176 riders who took the start, nor of the 146 finishers, has tested positive in several batteries of tests, validating the bubble measures put in place by the organizers of the Tour to protect them from infection.

Road fans have always encouraged them, mainly respecting riders’ requests to wear face masks, but have been kept away during stage starts and finishes.

The only COVID-19 positives affected a handful of team workers and the race director, even as the number of infections skyrocketed across the country.

The director was back after a week of self-isolation and, masked, signaled the start of Sunday’s stage at Mantes-La-Jolie west of Paris with his flag waving through the sunroof from his car.

Spectators wearing masks awaiting the rumble of the arrival of runners on the trembling cobblestones of the Champs-Élysées said the Tour’s outfit had brightened up a gloomy year and demonstrated that the coronavirus did not need to stop all life, if the sanitary measures are respected. The famous boulevard lacked its usual fervor, victim of the virus, with crowds usually buried in rows limited to a socially distant maximum of 5,000 people, gathered in enclosures by police and barriers.

But Pauline Bourbonnaud, a 22-year-old podiatry student, said it was nothing less than a “huge achievement” that the Tour has managed to keep runners safe from viruses. On previous laps she was by the side of the road when they flew over her region of central France. But the postponement of that year to September, when she was back in Paris for her studies, allowed her to soak up the finish for the first time.

“It’s important that events like this are fun. People needed the Tour after a year like this, ”she said.

One of the anti-pandemic tour’s most enthusiastic backers has also been its most powerful: French President Emmanuel Macron. As his government tried to revive the French economy battered by COVID, Macron hailed the race as “the pride of the country” and an example of how he must learn to live with the virus and the restrictions it imposes.

“Even in September, the Tour de France is magical!” Macron tweeted on Saturday after Pogacar crushed Roglic in the time trial.

Largely deprived of racing as the epidemic tore the world apart, and with those locked out able to stay fit only on home trainers, the riders arrived at the Tour a little rusty, but with the pent-up energy of dogs caged, their disturbed seasons reconfigured. to make them reach physically on the biggest cycling stage.

After a slow start, with multiple crashes, the race got more and more furious. Roglic, last year’s Spanish Vuelta winner and pre-Tour favorite, was backed by a powerful Jumbo-Visma team of dedicated star drivers to put him in yellow – obtained in Stage 9 – and then keep the popular swimsuit as far as Paris.

But the Pogacar pilot of Team Emirates of the United Arab Emirates had not read their script.

He first demolished Roglic’s 57-second lead, then built his own 59-second margin to secure the Tour in the time trial, an incredible reversal of fortune.

The birth of the Pogacar supernova is now expected to spill over into the cycling galaxy for years to come. His future rivals are unlikely to repeat Jumbo-Visma’s mistake of allowing him to return to contention, as he did after wasting time in crosswinds the first week, when he went from the third to the 16th.

Conquering the Tour on his first attempt, Pogacar joined an elite rookie club that includes, among others, the great Eddy Merckx, who ended up winning five. He beat Egan Bernal, who was 22 when he won last year, as the youngest Tour champion since World War II. And he became the second youngest winner of the race, behind only Henri Cornet, who was just under 20 when he was crowned in 1904.

The only Canadian in the race, Hugo Houle, a support driver with the Astana Pro Team, finished 47th. The 29-year-old from Sainte-Perpetue, Que., Finished 91st in the Tour last year.



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