Tadej Pogačar: ‘Today was one of the worst days of my life on the bike’

UAE Team Emirates leader loses more than five minutes on Tour de France queen stage

Tadej Pogacar at the finish of stage 17 of the 2023 Tour de France
Tadej Pogacar at the finish of stage 17 of the 2023 Tour de France
(Image credit: Zac Williams / SWpix.com)

Today was the day the race for the 2023 Tour de France yellow jersey died. Or more specifically when one of its two main protagonists pronounced it so.

Tadej Pogačar didn’t last long enough to see the hardest slopes of the day from his nemesis’s wheel. On the lower slopes of the long and fearsome Col de la Loze he radioed to his team-mates: “I’m gone. I’m dead.”

With that the race rode up the climb without him, the TV cameras only momentarily cutting back to broadcast his suffering before that too was forgotten. By the end of the day he had slipped a further 5-35 behind the yellow jersey.

It’s a day we imagine he’ll be keen to forget. “I tried to eat as much as possible but nothing went in my legs, it just stayed in my stomach,” he said. “I was really empty after three and a half hours, I was really empty at the bottom of the climb.”

The Slovenian had told his team-mate Adam Yates, who started the day in third overall to “save the podium” as he dropped off the back, paced-up the climb by faithful team-mate Marc Soler. 

Pogačar added: “If I didn't have such great support around me… I was already thinking I’d lose the podium today but I was really fighting with Marc [Soler] until the finish line.”

He said: “I think even on the stage to Col du Granon [in 2022 when he lost the yellow jersey to Vingegaard] I was much much better than today. So I must say today was one of the worst days of my life on the bike but I had to keep fighting.”

The UAE Team Emirates leader had crashed in the early part of the stage but when asked if it had affected him he said: “I don't know, it doesn't hurt so much, it hurts a little bit. Maybe it affected my body but just I couldn't work today, it was not a good day.”

His sports manager Matxin Fernandez said the team’s doctor had found no symptoms of sickness in Pogačar at the start of the day.

But he said the team had changed its tactics after the second of four climbs of the day, the Cormet de Roselend, from one of aggression where they had hoped Pogačar could bridge up to his team-mates in the break, to a defensive one where they would just follow the other teams.

He said his focus was supporting his lead rider: “We need to support the person and create confidence in Tadej in this bad moment. In a good moment it’s all photos and ‘Congrats! Congrats!’ with this situation it’s different. This year, for example, he has already won 12 races we know this experience, it’s important in this bad moment to create the support for Tadej 120%.”

Despite losing fistfuls of time and now sitting 7-35 behind Vingegaard in second, with Yates still third, the Slovenian held out hopes of going for another stage win on stage 20’s hilly parcours through the Vosges. “I hope to recover after today… It'll be a good stage if I have good legs, if we can aim for a stage win and keep the podium with me and Adam then it'll be a good finish,” he said.

That’s the thing about Pogačar, he never stays dead for long.

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Having trained as a journalist at Cardiff University I spent eight years working as a business journalist covering everything from social care, to construction to the legal profession and riding my bike at the weekends and evenings. When a friend told me Cycling Weekly was looking for a news editor, I didn't give myself much chance of landing the role, but I did and joined the publication in 2016. Since then I've covered Tours de France, World Championships, hour records, spring classics and races in the Middle East. On top of that, since becoming features editor in 2017 I've also been lucky enough to get myself sent to ride my bike for magazine pieces in Portugal and across the UK. They've all been fun but I have an enduring passion for covering the national track championships. It might not be the most glamorous but it's got a real community feeling to it.