Tour de France yellow jersey Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) may have experienced the most sustained series of attacks on his 2021 lead to date on Sunday, but ultimately it made little difference as the Slovenian’s overall advantage on his rivals rose once again from four minutes to over five.
In the 2021 Tour’s first full-scale battle of the Pyrenees, Pogačar rode a much more conservative race than when he had crushed the field in the Alps last weekend. But it didn’t matter.
For all Ineos Grenadiers successfully isolated the Slovenian on the second-to-last climb, the Envalira, and then pulled back Jonathan Castroviejo and Dylan Van Baarle from the early break to keep the pace high on the ultra-steep Beixalis, their GC leader Richard Carapaz could not crack Pogačar even slightly.
Nobody could, in fact. After Carapaz briefly charged off the front to no effect, Rigoberto Urán (EF Education-Nippo) made his first attack of the Tour, Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) launched a couple of sustained assault and even Ben O’Connor (AG2R-Citroën), theoretically the weakest of his GC rivals, jumped away a couple of times. Pogačar could chase them all down, one by one.
And at the summit of the Beixalis, it was Pogačar who sailed past the little GC favourites group to become the first to tackle the fast downhill to the finish, and simultaneously to ram the message home that he was feeling just as in control of events at the top of the final climb as he had been at the bottom.
Just to round off a near-perfect day for Pogačar, Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), previously second overall, faded even before the final ascent to Beixalis as he lost contact with the yellow jersey group. It was a plot line the Tour had already seen with O’Connor when the Australian briefly held second but dropped away on the following big day in the mountains. And as per O’Connor, Martin’s collapse left Pogačar once again with a broadened advantage of over five minutes on his closest pursuer, Urán, on GC.
“I’m feeling really confident for the third week,” Pogačar logically told reporters afterwards, before pointing out that he’d managed to eliminate another concern during this second week, about how he could handle the heat.
Racing in high temperatures was previously considered one of his weak points and the 30 degrees or more of searing heat throughout the weekend had perhaps raised his rivals hopes a little.
But in fact the Slovenian said that he’d been “much more comfortable than previously in this weather, I responded to the heat very well. That had been the most scary thing for me up to now, but after this second week I feel much better about it.”
Pogačar was less certain, he added, about whether his rivals had given up on trying to attack him and were fighting for the podium instead.
“They did try to attack me today,” he added, “but I felt good, unfortunately for them. The guys did a really good job in the team, and we will see how the fight continues in the rest of the Pyrenees.”
The Slovenian’s strength in each stage is plain to see, and he confirmed that in terms of overall power output, his data is “pretty much the same as last year.”
And if on paper being isolated by Ineos Grenadiers with an hour’s racing left and four of their riders in the front group was possibly the most worrying point of the stage for him, Pogačar said he had had no problems with it.
“They were pulling most of the day today and most other days as well, they spend a lot of time on the front,” he recognised. “I spoke with [key UAE mountain support rider] Rafal [Majka] and he said he was not feeling great, because he’d crashed two days ago.
“But I told him I felt much better than on the Ventoux so I was not scared. I was comfortable with Ineos' pacing. Plus I saw my parents on the last climb, in the middle where there were a lot of people, so it was much easier too. I don’t always see them on the climbs because it’s a big chaos with the fans. But when I saw them, it puts a really big smile on my face, I forget for a moment that I’m in a lot of pain.”
And come the finish, in any case, Pogačar’s situation on GC surely helped him forget whatever pain he felt on Sunday for good.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 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. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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