Welcome back to the Tour de France, Tadej Pogačar. On Wednesday, the Slovenian looked weak for one of the few times in his career so far, cracking and conceding a considerable amount of time to his rivals. On Thursday, he might not have taken all that time back, but he certainly showed that he will not go down without a fight.
Stage 12 saw the UAE Team Emirates rider take the fight to his main general classification rivals Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) and Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers). While he failed to distance them, it was a statement of his ambition to fight all the way to Paris.
It was a strange position for the 23-year-old, however, to be on the back foot. At his first two Tours de France - both of which he won - he either was always there until pouncing when it mattered (2020), or simply blew everyone else away (2021).
"I was not 100% confident today," Pogačar explained. "If I didn't crack yesterday, it would be a different story today. I would have more belief in myself, in my attacks. It was still good, I'm happy with today, I'm happy with my legs, and I'm looking forward to the coming days.
He disagreed with the notion that this was new for him; even if it was new for us, the viewers, to see him struggling, and then having to come from behind.
"It's not new territory for me," he said. "When I was younger, when I was in other races I always had to attack, even when I was a small kid, I was always behind and I always had to attack, so I know how it is. I like it that way."
The Slovenian seemed to like attacking, even if he could not distance Vingegaard. It is almost like he hit the reset button after a calamitous stage 11, and will now go again. He has a lot of time to do so, with the Pyrenees to come.
"I tried a couple of times, Jonas was following, he was super strong," Pogačar said. "But I think today was a good day for me, to get my motivational boost back after yesterday. I think the Tour is far from finished.
"Jonas is really impressive, he is climbing so good. His team is so strong, but it's not finished yet. We will be battling until the end."
Asked if Jumbo-Visma are simply too much for him and his depleted UAE team, especially after their strong showing on Wednesday, Pogačar disagreed.
"Jumbo are strong, they're really strong, but in the end you see how it is," he said. "Jonas is one of the best climbers, but I can match him. I think also maybe I will try to attack him someday better than today, and we will see. They are strong, but they're not unbeatable."
The Tour may have been shaken by Pogačar's crack on stage 11, but this is not race over.
"I will try until Paris, and I will give everything I can," was his statement of intent.
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