Tadej Pogačar rides himself into yellow and folklore
Tadej Pogačar, take a bow. As they would say on Twitter, it’s a Tadej Pogačar world and we’re just living in it.
A few months ago, legendary coach Cyrille Guimard said that the 22-year-old was already above the level of Eddy Merckx, the man widely-regarded as the greatest male cyclist of all time.
It was quite a bold claim to make about a rider who is only riding his third professional season, but when the defending Tour de France champion rides like he did today, it’s hard to argue with Guimard.
Pogačar is in a league of his own.
He’s been on the right side of fortune in the opening seven stages, avoiding many of the crashes, and when he’s been able to show his talent, he has revelled at the chance.
He dominated stage five’s time trial and today he was irrepressible. After attacking from the peloton on the penultimate climb, he was joined by Richard Carapaz, but within a minute he was solo, riding his own race and riding himself into yellow and most probably a second successive Tour win, if things continue like this.
He finished the stage in fourth place, despite being seven minutes behind the race leaders with 35km to go.
He now leads the race by 1-48 from Wout van Aert, and is a massive, a mammoth, an enormous 4-46 ahead of his nearest GC challenger Rigoberto Urán after just eight stages.
What we witnessed today was legendary. It was one of the greatest rides in the history of cycling.
And remember, his UAE Team Emirates were spent yesterday, rival teams thinking that if they isolate Pogačar, they can get at him.
It’s wishful thinking. The race for yellow may become a processional affair, but let’s just enjoy this generational talent.
Stage eight of the 2021 Tour de France will go down in history as the moment when the cycling world had its confirmation: there is no-one better than the young Slovenian. Not now, and perhaps not ever, like Guimard predicts.
Richard Carapaz and Rigoberto Urán are the best of the rest
We already knew it, but stage eight rubber-stamped the assertion that Richard Carapaz is Ineos Grenadiers’ leader, and he is probably the next best in the race.
The Ecuadorian bravely attacked yesterday, and he was in a mood to attack again today, backed up by his teammate Tao Geoghegan Hart.
Ultimately he was unable to keep pace with Pogačar, but he put a good amount of time into the rest, aside from Colombian Rigoberto Urán who actually has a 15-second buffer to Carapaz.
Urán is riding this Tour like he always has done: nothing explosive, but he rides his own rhythm and cannot easily be dislodged. He finished second in the 2017 race and is a good bet for a repeat.
As for Carapaz, the 2019 Giro d'Italia winner, he will probably be disheartened by the form of Pogačar, but he must take heart knowing that will be on the periphery of a second Grand Tour victory, if only Pogačar doesn't compete, of course.
A special mention must go to Wout van Aert, too. Despite insisting that he wouldn't challenge in the general classification battle, the Belgian showed today that we should not believe what he says, finishing 1-36 behind the group of Carapaz and Urán, a remarkable achievement given the parcours.
It was mooted last year after his work in the mountains that he could be a future GC rider, and his showing today - he is now 1-48 from Pogačar - was further evidence of a potential path in the coming years for the former cyclocross world champion.
And while we're doing shout-outs, Van Aert's Jumbo-Visma colleague Jonas Vingegaard is fifth, five minutes back from Pogačar and a second ahead of Carapaz.
The 24-year-old Dane has sprung onto the scene this year and he could be Primož Roglič's replacement.
Dylan Teuns wins a terrific, frantic stage
Of the 12 wins in Dylan Teuns' career, none have been as hard-fought as this one.
Just getting into the breakaway today was about five races crammed into one, with the break only allowed to form after two hours of hectic, pressurised racing that was ridden at a high-speed and on wet, slippery roads.
When Teuns' Bahrain Victorious team-mate Wout Poels finally accepted his fate and realised it was better to join the chasing group of 18 riders, the game then began of who would take the stage honours.
Up, over and down three category one climbs and Teuns emerged as the strongest, the smartest and the one who handled the horrible conditions the best, timing his attack perfectly and maintaining a rhythm on the final descent that increased his lead.
The 29-year-old is a respected figure in a peloton who know that when he is on a good day, he can win any stage.
Stage eight, as already outlined, will go down in this race's and this sport's chronicles, and Teuns name will rightfully be there, for he won an epic stage on a memorable, historic day of Grand Tour racing.
His success was also a further triumph for his team who are enjoying a magnificent season.
Mathieu van der Poel loses yellow
Mathieu van der Poel’s six days in the yellow jersey have been quite wonderful, the Dutchman honouring the lead with class and panache.
On the race’s first excursion into the Alps, though, the mountains were too much for the Alpecin-Fenix man who was distanced on the penultimate climb of the stage and eventually finished.
It was expected that Van der Poel would hand over race leadership today, but he didn’t do so easily, attentive in the race’s frantic opening three hours until the big mountains proved too much.
Van der Poel is targeting Olympic gold in the mountain bike and may now be thinking about pulling out of the Tour in the upcoming rest day, and if he does do so he will leave a highly impressive debut behind him.
Just like his grandfather Raymond Poulidor did, Van der Poel will write a number of chapters in this race’s annals. His story with the Tour has just begun.
Distant hopes of Roglič and Thomas end
Two of the big pre-race favourites are officially out of contention for winning the race, with both Geraint Thomas and Primoż Roglič suffering from the moment the flag dropped.
The pair slipped out of the back of the peloton in the opening kilometres and finished the race in the gruppetto, the big bunch at the back normally reserved for sprinters, not general classification riders.
Roglič’s performance today was expected given how he struggled on stage seven, but there was still some hope that Thomas would claw himself back into contention. After all, he was only two minutes adrift of Tadej Pogačar before the stage.
It is clear, though, that the injuries that the pair sustained in different crashes on stage three are hindering them significantly.
How the duo approach the next few weeks will be interesting. Will they re-focus and target stage success, or will they simply call it a day and head home to recover.
It seems more likley that Roglič would favour that approach, with one eye on defending his title at the Vuelta a España.
Thomas, meanwhile, could be thinking about his condition for the upcoming Olympic Games, with the road race taking place in just three weeks’ time. There could be pressure on him, though, to stay in France and help Richard Carapaz’s push for yellow.
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