On a great day for Slovenian cycling, Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) claimed the leader's red jersey in Pau and Pogacar, racing his first Grand Tour, completed the Vuelta's only time trial in 11th place, 1:29 back.
Overall, Pogacar continues to in fifth place, showing that, despite pulling out all the stops to win on the mountain stage in Andorra on Sunday, he remains a key component in the GC battle as well.
"It was a very hard TT, but I felt great, and I just went full gas," Pogacar told reporters after riding a good 200 metres beyond the line before finally wheeling to a halt.
"On the downhills, I rested a bit, but after the second climb I was really struggling, but I went full gas on the one after that."
The Slovenian national TT champ looked to be on for an even more remarkable top-three performance after he placed second behind Roglic at 21 seconds at the first time check.
Whilst Pogacar fell off the pace, in relative terms, and had dropped to seventh at 48 seconds by the second time check before sliding further down the ladder to 11th at 1:29 at the third checkpoint, he then rallied to hold onto that 11th spot overall on the final part of the course.
The excellent result for the Slovenian meant that the Tour of California winner finished nine seconds up on Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), 31 seconds up on Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) and 1:37 ahead of overnight leader Nairo Quintana (Movistar). In other words, of the Vuelta's GC favourites, only Roglic finished ahead of Pogacar.
Pogacar had played his own game on the TT, he revealed later, rather than follow the initial team plan. Although he lost time on the middle part of the course, overall it could hardly have gone better.
"We had thought we'd go easier on the first climb, but I felt so good there that I wanted to push on," Pogacar explained about his explosive start. "Then when it got more technical, I went easier.
"In any case, wearing the TT national champion's jersey here at the Vuelta was one of my dreams, and now I've done that."
Pogacar had said after the Andorra stage win that he was taking things day-by-day when it came to the GC, but that he would try "everything possible" to finish inside the top 10 in Madrid.
And it's true that, compared with Andorra, where he moved up from ninth to fifth overall, Pogacar has not made any further gains on the GC after Tuesday's time trial. However, the GC standings are deceptive when it comes to the young Slovenian's performances.
Before the Pau TT, the 20-year-old was trailing fourth-placed Valverde by 1:22, but now Pogacar has moved to within five seconds of the new rider sitting in fourth overall, Valverde's teammate Quintana, who lost the overall lead to Roglic. Not only that, third place on the provisional Vuelta podium is now only 44 seconds out of Pogacar's grasp.
As for whether he would be upping his own targets post-Pau for the second half of the Vuelta, Pogacar was cautious.
"I'm going for it day-by-day," he repeated. "I'll do my best and do what I can."
But, so far, the omens for a standout performance from yet another young rider this year in a Grand Tour GC could hardly be better.
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