After weeks of dominance and powerful team riding, the Jumbo-Visma riders could only watch on in disbelief as Tour de France victory disappeared in front of them on Saturday afternoon.
Primož Roglič entered the stage 20 time trial 57 seconds ahead of second-place Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), but such was the size of his deficit to his Slovenian compatriot in the closing couple of kilometres to the top of Planche des Belles Filles, it was abundantly clear that his impending Tour triumph was all but over.
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The TV cameras managed to catch the faces of his team-mates Tom Dumoulin and Wout van Aert as they watched from the finish area having completed their time trials. The shock couldn’t be hidden as they watched the painful sight of Pogačar put in an incredible ride, while their team leader looked to be all out of sorts on the final climb.
“It hurt my eyes how Primož got more and more into difficulty,” Van Aert said after the finish.
“It comes as a complete surprise. Primož felt good. There was nothing to indicate that he felt any less. During the time trial I saw that he was different than usual on his bike. We have all worked very hard for it. And we have gone all out for the past three weeks. That it does not work then is very disappointing.”
The Jumbo-Visma team have looked unassailable in their control of the Tour, even before Roglič took the overall lead on stage nine of the race. Their pace in the mountains has prevented their rivals from launching any long-lasting attacks, while they’ve gained small amounts of time here and there to push their leader into a position of almost certain victory with just a 36.2km time trial to complete; a discipline in which he has flourished in the past.
Meanwhile Pogačar has had to face the Tour almost completely alone at times, but has called on his immeasurable talent to put in one of the greatest rides in Tour history to stun everyone on the penultimate day. While Roglič looked far from his usual self on the bike, out of the saddle with an irregular cadence, the 21-year-old looked rock solid as he pushed a big gear up the steep ascent, beating Dumoulin to victory on the stage.
“This is quite a pity,” Tom Dumoulin said of what occurred on stage 20.
“Pogačar was of a different level than we were today. Primož was feeling good this morning and he knew that he had to do a good time trial. It wasn’t his best time trial ever, but it certainly wasn’t his worst either. We’ve been bounced by a strong Pogačar. The Tour victory slipped out of our hands. That is very disappointing. I did a considerable time trial myself. I didn’t ride very fast at La Planche, but before that I had some good pace.
“But it doesn’t matter anyway. It was neither for the stage win nor for the overall win. We did not see this one coming.”