Spare a thought for Neilson Powless. The 25-year-old American had potentially the best chance in his life of claiming the yellow jersey at the Tour de France on Thursday. All he had to do was finish in the same group as Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and hope that he did not win, and the race lead would be his, for a while anyway.
Pogačar had not read this script, had no interest in the first yellow jersey for the USA since 2006. He wanted the stage win, his seventh at the Tour in just 48 stages, and as he put it afterwards "anything else was just a bonus".
Of course he won stage six, of course he did. The man who has proved himself adept on all days, on all terrains, bested some men who are supposed to be faster finishers than him in the reduced sprint. Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange-Jayco) finished second, Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) came fourth.
"I was crossing my fingers that Tadej didn't win," a dejected Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) said, who trails the race lead by just four seconds now. "And when I saw him throw his hands up, my shoulders just sunk, I knew that was yellow."
It is quite some "bonus". The last two times that the Slovenian has climbed into the maillot jaune - after stage 20 in 2020, and after stage eight in 2021 - he has gone onto win the race. This time it is even earlier, but such is his seeming control over his abilities, and the whole Tour, that it it would not be a surprise to take lead all the way to Paris.
"We go day by day," he said laconically in the post-stage press conference. "Tomorrow is Super Planche [La Super Planche des Belles Filles, the first category one climb of this year's race]. We want to be at the front tomorrow, and go for the stage also, because it’s a really important stage. Then we see, we go day by day.
"You never know how things can go, but we will do whatever we can do to defend the jersey until the end."
There is of course a long way to go until the end of the race, and there has not even been any real climbing yet. However, we know what Pogačar can do in the mountains, we know he is capable of eviscerating his rivals. What we did not know was that he could cope perfectly well with racing over the cobbles, and that he could even win stages like stage six.
"We are not surprised, he's really strong," his UAE teammate Rafał Majka said after the finish. "Yesterday he demonstrated that on the cobbles, TT, everywhere, I think he is strong. We are not afraid of anybody, and sometimes in the first stages we were a little bit behind, but today we showed them that we are in the team. The next stages for sure we are in the front also.
"Paris is still far away, but for sure we come to win the Tour de France with Tadej. For now he is the best rider in the world, and I am so happy we won the stage today."
Pogačar has proved himself in the nerves of the first week, he has already won a stage, he is already in the yellow jersey; it will be hard to turn this ship around. Maybe that's just it now, Pogačar wins the Tour de France. He even seems to have luck on his side, never suffering any of the same misfortune that his rivals do. All of his GC rivals will be wondering how to land a blow on him, the man that seems untouchable.
"So far so good for us, the first week," was the verdict of the understated Slovenian. "The first six days I mean. Tomorrow we enter the climbing part of the Tour, which this year we have a lot of. We’re in a good position to defend the yellow jersey for the next few days."
A stage win and the yellow jersey, one supposes that is "so far, so good", but it might just be the whole race as well.
Asked why he did not even wait for the Planche des Belles Filles to grab hold of the race, not even waiting for the first proper climb, all Pogačar could offer is that he goes with the flow.
"I wait for Planche des Belles Filles, it's just I go with the flow," he said. "Today, the team believed in me, it was a nice opportunity, and I'm super happy to take the win today. I did not imagine it before the start."
Not many experts imagined it either; this was a stage won by Peter Sagan the last time the race finished in Longwy, is it possible that we are all underrating Pogačar? This is a man who can solo to victory from 50km away at Strade Bianche, can finish seventh on his first ever time racing on the cobbles, can win a sprint for victory.
To point it out again: this is the 23-year-old's seventh Tour stage win, at his third edition, and he is already joint-third on the list of active riders. This is joint 17th on the all-time ranking, but there is no reason to think he will move up even higher over the next fortnight.
"Every time I win it's even better," Pogačar said. "Today, it was so hard from the start, the first two hours were so crazy. The strongest guy went in the breakaway, a lot of guys pulling in the peloton, all of our team also. I was thinking he would come to the finish, but in the end the peloton was stronger. We came to the final climbs, I was feeling good, and the team did an incredibly good job to bring me into the perfect position.
"It was not a pure sprint, because we rode the last two climbs really hard. Above our thresholds, it was a super hard last climb, hectic and everything. I guess I had good legs to push in the end."
"I guess", sure.
His team were actually visible today, another bonus for the young man - he might not be left to do a lot of work on his own, as has been the case in the past.
One of the key helpers in this, along with Majka, who described the plan as working "perfectly" was Brandon McNulty.
"It wasn't necessarily part of the plan, but we were all there in those last climbs and we just went," the American said. "We had faith in him so we just went all in, and he pulled it off."
Tomorrow is the Planche des Belles Filles, where Pogačar triumphed in 2020, and he was keen to stress how he would be trying to win again this time. If his rivals weren't already on notice, they should be now.
"I really like the climb, I have really nice memories, but it’s going to be even more special because my family and girlfriend will be there," he said. "I cannot wait to go there.
With this added motivation, it might just be stage win number eight for Pogačar on Friday. "So far, so good", might continue.
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