They were huffing and puffing, but again, none of his main rivals managed to blow up the home of Tour de France leader Tadej Pogacar as the reigning champion clinched a compelling victory atop the Col de Portet in the French Pyrenees.
In what Pogacar had called the most difficult stage of the Tour, he seemed to have total control. Behind the 22-year-old, in what was actually a race in the race, Jonas Vingegaard of Team Jumbo Visma, and Richard Carapaz, who was racing for Ineos Grenadiers, fought each other to make sure they finished in the top three in Paris.
In fact, Carapaz spent most of the last few miles wincing in Pogacar’s wake, then attacked as the trio entered the short tunnel to the last thousand yards, leaving Vingegaard behind. Pogacar, however, was not disturbed by the Ecuadorian rider’s cunning.
“I was expecting anything, that’s why I was more or less setting the pace,” said the winner of the 2020 Tour. “You have to be careful every time, because with three guys everyone wants to win and each other. let it go, so everyone plays their own tactic. So I expected something like this.
Pushed on his reaction to Carapaz’s tactics, he replied, “I see no problem with people attacking. It’s a bike race and it was a great race. I liked that. Everyone has a chance to attack, so everyone will grab it.
Pogacar, leader of the UAE Emirates team, dominated the 14 July stage, from Muret to Col du Portet. On the mighty 16-kilometer climb of Portet, it was the Slovenian who set the tone for the decisive moments and finally emerged from the mountain haze to claim his second stage victory on this year’s Tour. “It’s a never-ending story,” he said of the ascent of the Col du Portet.
“It’s super long, a bad road the last eight kilometers and it never ends. It’s difficult, but I enjoyed the climb, even if it is one of the most difficult of this Tour.
“We have worked a lot this Tour,” said Pogacar of his teammates. “Even on a sprint stage, we had to shoot all day. We suffered a lot at the front and today was the perfect day to control the breakaway.
“There were only six riders and with a final like this we knew we could take the stage and try to win. After the first climb everyone was feeling good and we just went all-in.
Behind him, the group of closely positioned rivals began to crack. Vingegaard and Carapaz edged out their rivals for the Paris podium, Rigoberto Uran of the EF Education Nippo team and Australian Ben O’Connor, at the wheel of AG2R Citroën, who were left adrift in the last kilometers of the climb.
Suddenly it became clear who the three strongest riders in the peloton were, as Pogacar expertly controlled Carapaz and Vingegaard in the final, steeper sections of the Portet climb. A series of accelerations by the leader of the race in the last two kilometers, underlined the depth of his reserves, but failed to dislodge his two companions.
Watched during the final climb by his girlfriend and family, a moment in which he said he felt “pure joy”, Pogacar refused to accept that his second Tour de France success was now assured.
“The Tour ends on the Champs Élysées, in the last lap on the finish line. There can be a lot of bad luck in cycling. I can touch wood – my head – I don’t like to think about it.
There is now a mountain stage to come, up to the twisty hairpins of Luz Ardiden. It’s hard to imagine a different scenario than what we’ve seen before, from the continued dominance of Pogacar and the growing aerial fight between Carapaz and Vingegaard, now separated by just four seconds, for second place overall in Paris.
Meanwhile, Mark Cavendish, a four-stage winner in this year’s race, was well supported by teammates at Decenuninck QuickStep and survived the brutal stage to maintain his 36-point lead in the green points jersey standings, on his Australian rival, Michael Matthews.