Tadej Pogačar’s dominance on the first mountain stage of the Tour de France was a knockout blow for Geraint Thomas and PrImoz Roglič and left all his other GC rivals scrambling to limit their losses in the hope they can fight for a final podium spot in Paris or a best possible placing in the top ten. With nearly a fortnight remaining, they certainly have a long way to go to fight that battle.
Barring accident, ambush, illness or injury, the four traditional caveats on any ultra-strong leader’s hold on a Grand Tour, working out who can stand next to the Slovenian on the Champs-Elysées is arguably the biggest interest point remaining on GC. But given the strength of the Slovenian’s onslaught and the injuries and other incidents that have affected several of his stand-out rivals, there are few solid reference points so far.
All we really know for now is that Pogačar is on another level and where his rivals stand on GC following his knock-out attack where he gained more than three minutes on all his GC rivals with his solo attack over the Col de Romme and the subsequent Col de la Colombière.
The 22-year-old pulled on the leader’s yellow jersey on the podium in Le Grand Bornand and is now in total control of the Tour. It’s a startling contrast to 2020 where he surprisingly snatched victory in the final time trial, with Pogačar in yellow with a dominant lead with two weeks still to race.
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He now leads Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) by 1:48, after the Belgian had gained four minutes the day before in the breakaway. But while Van Aert has shown he is no match for the Slovenian in the mountains, Pogacar’s overall rivals remain scattered across the top twenty of the general classification, with Alexey Lutsenko (Astana-Premier Tech) closest but also distant at 4:38 an Rigoberto Uran (EF Education-Nippo) fourth at 4:46.
24-year-old Tour debutant Jonas Vingegaard now carries the flag for Jumbo-Visma but crashed during the stage to La Grand Bornand and is at 5:00 minutes exactly. Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) is in sixth place at 5:01 after trying to go with Pogacar, only to crack and slip back, paying for his effort.
Wilco Kelderman (Bora-Hansgrohe) is seventh at 5:13, Enric Mas (Movistar) at 5:15 and David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) is a further place back at 5:22 but remains in the five-minute club of final podium contenders. Other riders will not doubt be pushed to try to finish in the top ten by their teams but the likes of Guillame Martin (Cofidis), Ben O’Connor (AG2R-Citroen) and new King of the Mountains leader Wout Poels (Bahrain Victorious) face a Herculean task to do so.
First week leader Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) dropped to 23rd overall after being distanced by Pogačar’s attacks. He finished 21:47 down alongside Miguel Ángel López (Movistar) and Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo), two further illustrious victims of the stage and Pogačar’s aggression.
Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) also lost over nine minutes while Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) conceded over 18 minutes and dropped out of contention completely. The French fans will no doubt still cheer him widely but he will have to up his game considerably if he is even to target stages in the Pyrenees.
At least they are likely to ride on. Crash-damaged Primoz Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) finished more than 35 minutes back after being distanced early and finishing in the gruppetto. They were expected to be two of Pogacar’s biggest rivals but have been cast aside and Thomas will surely carefully consider if it is worth riding onto Paris while Roglič abandoned on Sunday morning.
They were both victims of painful crashes early in the race but would surely have struggled to match Pogačar, who seems on another planet and so much at ease with his own ability and his dominance of the Tour de France.
"I haven't killed the Tour, there's still a long way to go," Pogačar said in Le Grand-Bornand. Pogacar said, innocently trolling his rivals with the same disregard as when he attacked them on the Col de Romme.
“Anything can happen. Today I got a gap, maybe tomorrow someone else will. It's never finished. We will defend 100 percent the place we are in now. We are really confident and motivated for the next two weeks, but I did not kill the Tour, sorry.”
Into an unknown battle foe the podium
The derailing of the Jumbo-Visma and Ineos Grenadiers Tour de France strategies combined with Pogačar’s seemingly unbeatable ability has left everyone else scared and unsure how to race.
If Pogačar and his UAE Team Emirates squad can defend his lead, and there still remain a few question marks about his team’s collective strength, then the fight for the podium spots and the top five in Paris could well be the most entertaining part of the next two weeks along the long road to Paris. All of Pogačar’s rivals can only hope some miracle comes along like last year when Pogacar snatched a last-minute victory from Roglic.
Ineos team manager Dave Brailsford promised his riders would not raise a white flag and try to salvage a podium spot. Ineos Grenadiers started the Tour with a four-pronged leadership strategy but were shipwrecked during the first week, leaving Brailsford to talk to himself in the mirror of Grand Tour hope.
"I think he [Pogačar] is certainly the strongest rider in the race but there's a very long way to go. As we've seen so far, all sorts of things are happening this year," Brailsford said in La Grand-Bornand, trying to enjoy Pogačar’s dominance even if it ends any chance for Ineos Grenadiers.
"It's very exciting and it feels like we're in unknown territory so we'll keep our wits about us. That was a fantastic performance but you don't know what's round the next corner. You don't drop your guard and you keep on challenging yourself."
However, Pogačars rivals have probably all lowered their heads after that beating and are no doubt probably thinking about how they can salvage their Tour. Second or third place behind such a dominant Pogačar could feel like a victory of sorts when the Tour de France rolls into Paris in two weeks' time.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.