By Stephen Puddicombe published
The most thrilling end to a Tour de France in decades
No-one saw this coming. As much as we all hoped to see an exciting showdown for the yellow jersey on the decisive penultimate stage of the race, the 57-second lead yellow jersey wearer Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) held over second-place Tadej Pogačar (UAE Emirates) appeared unbridgeable.
Roglič had been untouchable during the Alps, not showing even a hint of weakness, while the Pogačar had toned down some of the exuberance he displayed during the first half of the race, and appeared to be tiring as Paris approached.
Maybe, if he was on a good day, Pogačar might be able to reduce the deficit a little, but making up nearly one whole minute against a time triallist as good as Roglič looked an impossible task.
But what seemed an impossible task gradually began to seem very possible out on the road. Pogačar began to put pressure on his compatriot at the first intermediate time check, cutting his advantage down to 13 seconds and that gap continued to close at a threatening rate over the next kilometres. With just 44 seconds left to close, the race was on.
Then, on the lower slopes of the Planche des Belles Filles, the advantage suddenly swung drastically towards Pogačar. Rather than slowing down from his earlier efforts, Pogačar appeared even stronger on this climb, as instead it was Roglič who started to seriously suffer. As 30 seconds became 20 seconds, 20 seconds became 10 seconds, and 10 seconds became a dead heat, and, with 4km to ride, Pogačar was the virtual yellow. The momentum was permanently with Pogačar, and it rapidly became clear that he was going to win the Tour de France.
The stage evoked memories of 1989, when Greg LeMond famously took the yellow jersey from Laurant Fignon in a time trial on the Champs-Élysées by eight seconds — a margin that remains the smallest in Tour de France.
This stage may not have ended up being anywhere near as close, with Pogačar taking a huge 1-56 out of Roglič to win the overall by 59 seconds, but it will be similarly remembered as one of the most stunning moments in the history of the race.
Tadej Pogačar set to become the second youngest winner of the Tour de France
When a 22-year-old Egan Bernal won the Tour de France last year, it felt like we were bearing witness to a once-in-a-generation talent.
Little did we know that, just one year later, an even younger rider would win the Tour de France in an even more impressive manner.
With his 22nd birthday still a couple of days away, Tadej Pogačar becomes the second youngest winner of the yellow jersey of all-time, bettered only by Frenchman Henri Cornet way back in 1922.
His climbing had impressed throughout the race, and earned him a virtually guaranteed spot on the podium, but no-one was prepared for what he could do in the time trial. Not only did he put a whopping 1-56 into Roglič, he even made a mockery of the specialists against the clock who had themselves been on great days and were in the hunt for the stage win. Tom Dumoulin (Jumbo-Visma) and Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) finished second and third with exceptional rides, but still found themesmelves both losing 1-21 to Pogačar.
His time up the Planche des Belles Filles was even enough to take the mountains classification ahead of Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), meaning the Slovenian wins the yellow, white and polka-dot- jersey, all on his first ever Tour de France. This is Eddy Merckx levels of domination, and Pogačar’s talent is one of the few worthy of mentioning in the same breath as the great Belgian.
Defeated Primož Roglič is left shellshocked
What happened to Primož Roglič? A rider who has looked so comfortable these past three weeks, and so immune to any kind of pressure, suddenly fell apart on the last hurdle between him and glory in Paris.
What had meant to be a glorious coronation turned into a horrible nightmare, as his two-week stranglehold of the yellow jersey came to an abrupt end.
He never quite looked himself on the bike. Usually he is a rider perfectly attuned to the needs of time trialling, able to mould himself into a smooth, streamlined position. But here he looked ragged, coming out of the saddle far more than usual and seemingly unable to get into rhythm.
As extraordinary as Pogačar’s ride was, Roglič may still have been able to hold on to the overall lead were he at his very best, but clearly didn’t have the legs.
His vacant expression after he crossed the line and his monotonous comments in the post-race interview suggests that he is still in shock, and that what had just happened was yet to sink in. A rider who had seemed almost robotic in his efficiency over the course of the race all of a sudden looked very human, and it was devastating to watch.
Jumbo-Visma’s flawless Tour de France ends in failure
Before Pogačar’s heroics, today’s stage appeared on course to be another triumph for the most impressive team of the race, Jumbo-Visma.
One-by-one, all of their star riders bettered the time set by the day’s early leader, Rémi Cavagna (Deceuninck-Quick-Step). First Wout van Aert put in another impressive display by going 28 seconds faster, then Tom Dumoulin put another 10 seconds into his team-mate’s time in the most clear demonstration yet that the Dutchman is back to his best.
With Roglič himself finishing fifth, that meant the team placed three riders in the top five, and yet still this will be a day remembered as one of horrible trauma rather than joyful glory. The images of Dumoulin and Van Aert looking on as Pogačar stormed his way to the finish line, with expressions somewhere between shock and crestfallen, summed it up.
Could the team have ridden the race any differently? In hindsight they would have been wise to capitalise on the relative weakness of Pogačar’s team by isolating him more, and have tried to give themselves a bigger buffer going into the time trial. But could they really have been expected to anticipate what Pogačar did today?
With three stage wins and a second overall for Roglič, it’s still been a successful Tour de France by most measures, especially for a team who has not been as historically successful as, say, Ineos Grenadiers. Yet they will be left lamenting what could have been.
Richie Porte, at long last, makes the podium
Amid all the drama unfolding for the race for the top spot of the podium, it was easy to lose track of the other race happening just up the road for a place on the third spot on the podium.
Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) needed to take 1-39 out of Miguel Ángel López (Astana) to rise into third overall, and set about getting that time with a huge ride, and one that was ultimately the third fastest of the day.
López has an erratic record in time trials over his career, and this was one of his bad days. Not only did he end up nowhere Porte, he lost enough time on Mikel Landa (Bahrain-McLaren) and Enric Mas (Movistar) to slip all the day to sixth overall.
This was arguably the biggest day of Richie Porte’s long, illustrious career. The Australian has enjoyed all kinds of success, winning multiple overall classifications at high-profile races like Paris-Nice and the Tour de Suisse, not to mention all the work he has done in service of the likes of Chris Froome as a deluxe super-domestique during his time at Team Sky.
But a podium finish at the Tour de France was the result he’s always wanted, and to finally achieve it, aged 35-year-old and written off by many, is one of the Tour’s most heart-warming stories.
That he will now come home to see his new daughter, newly-born a couple of weeks ago, only adds to the fairytale.
Stephen Puddicombe is a freelance journalist for Cycling Weekly, who regularly contributes to our World Tour racing coverage with race reports, news stories, interviews and features. Outside of cycling, he also enjoys writing about film and TV - but you won't find much of that content embedded into his CW articles.
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