By Jonny Long
Tadej Pogačar announced his Tour de France general classification credentials after a masterful weekend of racing in the Pyrenees, dropping his rivals on stage eight before winning stage nine and vocalising his yellow jersey aspirations.
"Of course I'm thinking about GC, that's why I came here," said the reserved yet self-assured 21-year-old.
After losing over a minute in the crosswinds on stage seven, the Slovenian went on the offensive the very next day, dropping the likes of Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and Egan Bernal (Ineos), gaining 40 seconds, before outsprinting the pair to take his maiden Tour win and bonus seconds on stage nine.
"I wanted to gain as much time as possible in the GC, and then with the sprint it's 10 seconds as well," Pogačar said of his stage victory. "I don't know what happened [in the final] it was just full gas sprinting.
"Of course I lost some time but that doesn't mean anything. The game for the GC just started and in the coming weeks we'll see more changes. I'll try my best for the GC and if there are stages I'll take my chances."
Pogačar has looked the most inclined to go on the offensive over the past two stages, and challenge his GC rivals, matter-of-factly stating that's how you take time on opponents.
"If you don't attack you cannot gain time probably, I needed some time back so I tried and did my best," Pogačar explained. "Today was a good day, sometimes you just need to go full gas but Jumbo is really strong so you need to attack."
While Pogačar seemed to have the strongest legs after dropping his rivals on stage eight, he said he couldn't shake them on stage nine, and that he doesn't consider himself to be the strongest uphill despite the partial evidence of this weekend.
"I don't know about that, yesterday was one story, it was different today. The guys on the climb also had the same legs as me I guess, I couldn't shake them.
As Pogačar and Roglič battled it out for bonus seconds at the top of the Marie Blanque, the Slovenian pair touched wheels, the younger of the two having turned around and not seeing Roglič coming across to beat him to the summit, nearly sending his countryman over the barriers.
"On the top I did a bit of a mistake, I thought maybe I dropped everyone but Roglic was coming on my left, I was a little bit uncareful," Pogačar admitted. "I pulled back and Roglič passed me and came to the right and I came to the left, we touched the wheels but everything was okay. We worked until the finish to gain time on the others, not really so much at the end. This is a really amazing experience."
Pogačar becomes the youngest Tour stage winner since Lance Armstrong in 1993, saying he's enjoying the experience and challenge of his first-ever French Grand Tour.
"I don't know what the biggest surprise is, maybe that the level is really high, even more than in the Vuelta, more stress, but I'm not surprised by that," Pogačar said. "I knew that, but I'd just never raced here before. It's been a really great nine days so far, I'm really happy about my Tour so far."
Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races. I'm 6'0", 26 years old, have a strong hairline and have an adequate amount of savings for someone my age. I'm very single at the minute so if you know anyone, hit me up.
Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab, reporting about students evacuating their bowels on nightclub dancefloors and consecrating their love on lecture hall floors. I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).
I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.
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