It must be a difficult time to be Tadej Pogačar. After two years of it being widely thought that he was unbeatable, especially at the Tour de France, he cracked once again on stage 18, all but ending his defence of the yellow jersey.
Not that the Slovenian showed it, still beaming as he stood on the podium for what seems like the millionth time this race, this time for just the white jersey presentation.
On the climb to Hautacam, as on the Col du Granon on stage 11, the UAE Team Emirates' rider cracked, showed weakness, suffered for the attacking efforts that he put in earlier in the stage. There to take advantage was Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma), who ended up taking 1-04 on the stage, meaning his advantage is now 3-26.
“I guess. Yes,” asked if his chances of winning yellow were now over in the post-stage mix zone.
"The Tour is more or less decided. I congratulated Jonas on today and on the Tour. I think he's won it."
There is still a 40km time trial on Saturday, and the chance of crosswind on tomorrow's largely flat stage, but it will be difficult to claw back three minutes, especially as Vingegaard looks so strong.
“There’s still one stage I can try to win and I’ll give my all until Paris, which is three days away," Pogačar added.
It was an eventful day for the 23-year-old, who attacked repeatedly on the ascent of the Col de Spandelles, without distancing his rival, and then crashed on the descent. Vingegaard waited for Pogačar after the incident, effectively neutralising the descent.
Then, after Jumbo-Visma's Sepp Kuss and Wout van Aert put in monster turns on the climb to Hautacam, Pogačar slid off the back of the lead group and eventually came in second, a minute after Vingegaard had crossed the line and effectively sealed the Tour.
“I gave it all today, I wasn’t thinking about the stage win, I was thinking about the yellow jersey," Pogačar explained.
“I gave it my all on the second to last climb, crashed on the downhill, gave it my all on the last climb but second place is the best for me. I think I did all I could and I think I can be proud of the result.”
“For sure it’s not nice to crash but I was pushing it and I crashed. It was my fault. Whatever, Jonas was really, really strong.”
As he had promised, Pogačar went down fighting, and will continue to race hard all the way to the bitter end, using all of his energy. He did not even blame the fact that he has just three teammates thanks to Covid and injury.
“There couldn’t be a better way to lose the Tour de France than this,” Pogačar said. “I gave it all today thinking of the GC. I will leave the race with no regrets.
“Jonas was the strongest and even with eight teammates it would have been hard to beat him, but maybe we would have had more chances to attack him in the last week."
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