Three weeks is a long time in a bike race, and while Primož Roglič looked to be benefitting in the early stages from bonus seconds, possessing a better kick than his then-main rival Egan Bernal (Ineos), another youngster will now challenge him for the Tour de France title, and this one looks to have the more explosive lunge for the line.
Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) is in the ascendancy as the French Grand Tour enters its final week, and Jumbo-Visma will not be complaining that other teams, increasingly desperate for a result, will be flinging riders up the road in search of stage victories.
On stage 16, Lennard Kämna took a total of 18 bonus seconds after cresting the category one Montée de Saint-Nizier-du-Moucherotte first and soloing to a much-needed stage victory for Bora-Hansgrohe. When the GC group came through 16 minutes later, Pogačar again had the faster finish of the Slovenian pair, finishing just behind Miguel Ángel López (Astana) who flew up the final few hundred metres.
Since the Tour de France became a two-Slovenian-horse race, Pogačar has proved adept at clawing back seconds here and there, reducing his deficit by four seconds with the stage 15 win up the Grand Colombier. Tomorrow, another summit finish will surely make or break the GC contenders, but the current yellow jersey is aware that every second counts leading up to the time trial at La Planche des Belles Filles.
"It just depends, when you win it's better to win with the bonus seconds but when you don't win it's not so good," Roglič said after the finish of stage 16 when asked whether he'd rather the bonus seconds remain available for the GC group or go to the escapees.
"It was quite clear that the winner would come from the breakaway, there was a lot of interest. It was super hard to get into the break and everyone who wanted to go for the victory had to be there," Roglič added, his team clearly not desperate for the stage win having taken four already. "For us, it was definitely welcome so we could have an easier pace."
They will need the rest, too, as tomorrow's stage 17 is the queen stage of this year's race, featuring the Col de la Madeleine before a finishing climb to the summit of the Col de la Loze. Roglič expects another large breakaway to march up the road, leaving the GC riders to nervously watch each other until everything explodes into action.
"It will be a big fight for the breakaway, it will be super hard to control what will happen," Roglič said. "Maybe we will get the decision if the winner is from the breakaway or from the peloton at the end. All the guys know the climb is super hard, a really hard day tomorrow."
Bonus seconds or not, Roglič will face the biggest fight to keep the yellow jersey on his shoulders on the Col de la Loze, the Jumbo-Visma leader expecting to be put under siege, particularly from Pogačar.
"I expect attacks all the time...it's crazy hard the last 5km or so. It will be a fight for every second," Roglič anticipated. "Tadej is the closest rival so we will need to watch him and definitely I expect he will try to go."
Thank you for reading 20 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1