Tadej Pogačar untouchable yet again
After his dominant performance on stage 17, the yellow jersey was in a familiar mood on the final mountain stage of this year’s race, stage 18 to Luz Ardiden.
What’s most remarkable about Pogačar’s performance in this race is not just his physical superiority over his rivals, as he finishes the toughest mountain stages barely taking a breath, but it’s the mentality of a champion that compels him to win at every opportunity.
Both on stages 17 and 18, Pogačar’s five-minutes GC advantage should be more than enough for him to sit back and let his rivals do all the work.
But the young Slovenian has an aggressive streak that dominates all, as on both finishes he would set the pace himself late on the climb, chasing down rivals wherever he can, and attacking for the stage win at every opportunity.
On stage 18, Pogačar eventually decided to chase down Enric Mas (Movistar) who had hit out for the stage victory and is 10 minutes down on general classification, refusing to let even the slightest gap go, and in the process securing his third stage win of the race.
Pogačar has shown a killer instinct we’ve not seen in cycling for a long time.
Carapaz still unable to dislodge his rivals
Richard Carapaz clearly has outstanding form in the year’s Tour de France, as he has been one of the big three riders in the final of mountain stages, along with Pogačar and Jumbo-Visma’s Jonas Vingegaard.
But despite his consistency and his admirable attacking spirit, Carapaz has not reaped the rewards of his ability, as he still sits third overall and remains without a stage in this year’s race.
Stage 18 was almost a carbon copy of the previous mountain stages, with Ineos Grenadiers showing their intentions early on the climbs by leading the GC group, setting up Carapaz for a signature attack late in the stage.
But once again Carapaz was unable to dislodge either of his main rivals on Luz Ardiden, as Vingegaard took another handful of seconds at the summit.
With the TT the only opportunity left for major time gaps, Carapaz still trails second-place Vingegaard by six seconds, which based on previous form he is not likely to overturn.
Carapaz and Vingegaard had been separated by just a single second all the way from the stage five time trial until stage 17, where the Dane scooped just a few seconds, showing that these two are almost impossible to separate in the mountains.
But in that TT on stage five, Vingegaard was the stronger of the two, as he put in a remarkable performance to finish third on the stage, behind Tadej Pogačar and European champion Stefan Küng.
Carapaz meanwhile is not amongst the fastest against the clock, as he was around 1-17 slower than Vingegaard over 27km.
While Carapaz deserves credit for his attacking style this race, he’s likely to have to settle for third in this year’s race.
Vingegaard denied a deserved reward in the mountains
Jonas Vingegaard is undeniably the revelation of the race, as the 24-year-year has been a serious contender for the yellow jersey in his maiden Tour de France, only his second ever Grand Tour.
But despite his absolutely phenomenal rides, included third in the stage five TT and two second places in the mountains of stage 17 and 18, Vingegaard is now going to leave the mountains without the reward he deserves on his palmarés.
While Tadej Pogačar is clearly the strongest in the general classification, Vingegaard’s performance has at least been deserving of a stage victory, which he has twice been denied by Pogačar, first on the Cold d Portet and again on Luz Ardiden.
In normal times Vingegaard would also be the guaranteed winner of the white jersey, which he currently wears, but once again Pogačar’s dominance has taken away the plaudit, as Pogačar, 22, will take home the young rider’s jersey if he wins the overall in Paris.
While Pogačar’s performances are almost otherworldly, lets not Vingegaard’s own displays go unnoticed amidst the fanfare for the Slovenian superstar.
Ineos’s power not a match for UAE Team Emirates
The power of Ineos Grenadiers continues to yo-yo in the world of Grand Tour racing.
After missing out on the 2020 Tour de France, the squad bounced back to unexpectedly win the Giro d’Italia last season with Tao Geoghegan Hart, before they were unable to topple Primož Roglič in the Vuelta a España.
But the team returned to their full glory in this year’s Giro, as Egan Bernal returned from his back injury for a dominant display in Italy.
Now in the Tour de France, they’re once again on the back foot to a Slovenian rival, this time Tadej Pogačar.
The British WorldTour squad have by far the strongest team on paper in this year’s Tour, boasting three Grand Tour winners (Geoghegan Hart, Geraint Thomas, and Richard Carapaz), and Tour podium finisher Richie Porte, but their performance in this race hasn’t reflected the potential.
Ineos took up their familiar place at the head of the GC group on stage 18, setting a pace for Richard Carapaz, as Tao Geoghegan Hart put in fantastic performance on early sections of the final climb.
But remarkably, Geoghegan Hart’s pace wasn’t fast enough for UAE Team Emirates, who have not been a strong GC unit in support of Tadej Pogačar, as Rafał Majka moved to the front to up the stakes.
While this hasn’t been reflective of the two teams for much of this race, it stands a glaring example of Ineos’s uncharacteristic weakness in this year’s race.
The squad have been hindered by crashes early in the race, with Geoghegan Hart, Porte, and Thomas all falling in the first week, but it’s an unfamiliar sight to see a team like UAE taking the reins from Ineos on the final climbs.
Fight for KoM goes out the window thanks to Pogačar
Now this talking point comes down to what you think the point of the King of the Mountains classification at the Tour de France is all about.
But over the last 11 stage we’ve seen a close battle unfold for the coveted polka-dot jersey, as Wout Poels (Bahrain Victorious), Michael Woods (Israel Start-Up Nation) and Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) have all aggressively been pursuing points on offer on the Tour’s many categorised climbs.
This hard-fought minor classification offered up a welcome sub-plot running alongside the dominance of Pogačar in the yellow jersey race.
In the last two stages however, the climber’s classification has been flipped upside down on just two summit finishes, as Tadej Pogačar usurped Poels with his two stage wins, without even targeting the classification.
While it’s impossible to deny that Pogačar is by far the strongest climber in the race, evidenced by his five-minute advantage on general classification and his two mountain stage wins, his dominance has also taken away the fascinating see-saw of point scoring we’d seen from the other climbers who were giving it all for the classification.
The fault of course doesn’t lie with Pogačar, but instead with the race organisers who offered a whopping 40 points for each of the summit finishes on stages 17 and 18.
By comparison, Wout Poels had racked up just 88 points across the 11 stages he targeted the climbs, including the 10 he scored when he was fourth over the Col du Tourmalet on stage 18.
Pogačar now leads by 19 points over Poels, all-but securing the polka-dot jersey, which he will take along with the yellow jersey and the white jersey if all goes according to plan.
Alex is the digital news editor for CyclingWeekly.com. After gaining experience in local newsrooms, national newspapers and in digital journalism, Alex found his calling in cycling, first as a reporter and now as news editor responsible for Cycling Weekly's online news output.
Since pro cycling first captured his heart during the 2010 Tour de France (specifically the Contador-Schleck battle) and joining CW in 2018, Alex has covered three Tours de France, multiple editions of the Tour of Britain, and the World Championships, while both writing and video presenting for Cycling Weekly. He also specialises in fitness writing, often throwing himself into the deep end to help readers improve their own power numbers.
Away from journalism, Alex is a national level time triallist, avid gamer, and can usually be found buried in an eclectic selection of books.
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