The reigning champion of the Tour de France, Tadej Pogacar, is back in yellow after a remarkable performance which saw him finish the punishing state eight in fourth behind stage winner Dylan Teuns.
The first mountain stage of this year’s Tour de France, which covered 150km over the Alps was made that much more difficult with the rainy conditions, which saw riders be more cautious on the speedy downhill runs. The famous Col de la Colombiere was chewed up and spat out by the Belgian climber on his way to victory as Pogacar failed to hunt him down, easing off over the final few kilometres after another impressive stage.
The Slovenian, at just 22 years of age, is looking to retain the crown for UAE Team Emirates, and with more performances like this one, it doesn’t look like there are many people in the field who can live with him. It’s easy to both forget his tender age, and run out of superlatives when watching such an impressive sportsperson.
Teuns put in an incredible performance to win the stage, but all the talk will be about Pogacar, who destroyed his general classification rivals, almost single handedly. In the mountains, he put in a herculean solo push that put more than three minutes between him and his title rivals in the overall standings and although he was unable to pass Teuns in the closing stages, he will come away from this stage a happy man.
A chaotic opening 70km saw several of the peloton fall away but Teuns survived a late push from Ion Izaguirre who pipped Pogacar on the line to take second for Astana-PremierTech, while Michael Woods, who led for a large portion of the race finished in third.
It clearly took a lot out of Pogacar, who was slumped over his bike having crossed the finishing line, only to be revived by a team member who offered him a can of fizzy drink. He gladly accepted after an absolutely extraordinary ride.
But let’s give praise to the race winner, who has bounced back from a testing year to win this testing stage. “It’s super-amazing, until now I had a difficult year, aiming for some goals, but never came close so finally I can celebrate,” he said after the race.
“It was not easy, tactically - in the beginning a lot of stress, I mean stress like nervousness ... it was hard to get a group in the front, with 60 guys full on and on, and then Wout was aiming for the climber’s jersey, he was up there alone, then it was easy for us, having to follow the wheels ... the second-last climb it was a bit worrying, because they started from the bottom really hard, and it was hard for me to follow that pace, but I came back nicely.”
Pogacar now leads overall by 16 seconds from Wout Van Aert, as those two are way clear of the rest of the pack. Incredibly, after day one in the mountains, the next-closest on GC, is Alexey Lutsenko of Astana who is 4 minutes and 38 seconds back.
What a day, what a ride, what a sportsman. He’s well on his way to back-to-back Tour de France titles, which would be more than fitting for the 22-year-old who has blown us all away.