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Roglic remains on track for Paris after final full mountain stage of Tour de France

Primoz Roglic of Team Jumbo Visma in action during the stage 18 of the 107th edition of the Tour de France cycling race from Meribel to LaRochesurForon 175 km in France Thursday 17 September 2020 This years Tour de France was postponed due to the worldwide Covid19 pandemic The 2020 race starts in Nice on Saturday 29 August and ends on 20 September BELGA PHOTO DAVID STOCKMAN Photo by DAVID STOCKMANBELGA MAGAFP via Getty Images
(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

One more day down and Tour de France leader Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) once again came through the mountains unscathed, with his 57-second advantage over Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) intact on the final full mountain stage in the Alps and with his chances of taking the race outright looking better than ever.

On a stage with 4,600 vertical metres of climbing, Roglič's yellow-and-black 'train' of climbers never faced more than the briefest of challenges, when Pogačar took advantage of an attack by Enric Mas (Movistar) to accelerate away briefly.

But although Mas' move shattered the little group of favourites, Sepp Kuss stayed alongside Roglič and between the two of them Pogačar was quickly reeled in again.

Roglič was notably insistent in staying close to the front across the gravel section atop the Plateau de Glières, then led the small group of favourites for most of the downhill, clearly intent on minimizing the risks to his increasingly high chances of success in Paris.

But after gaining time on Pogačar on Wednesday's epically difficult stage but being, according to Jumbo-Visma team director Frans Maassen "close to cracking when he crossed the line", on Thursday, Roglič was once again able to keep his rivals in check without any real challenges.

"I was more comfortable today than yesterday," Roglič said, "my legs felt a little better and everything went fine, my team controlled the race for the whole day, so it was another good day for us."

While French TV speculated at some length what Roglič had said to Pogačar when he put his arm across the younger Slovenian's shoulders close to the finish, Roglič said he could not remember.

"I was probably asking him about how he liked racing across gravel and the Glieres," Roglič, who had done the same climb in the 2018 Tour, said, "It was nothing special."

The upper layers of the overall classification look to be all but set in stone, now. But although Friday looks like a classic transition stage, there is always a chance that Pogačar could upset the applecart on Saturday.

Pogačar's talent for time trialling is far from non-existent - only a few weeks back, he beat Roglič in their country's TT National Championships en route to a second gold medal in that event.

But in stage racing, Roglič's track record is such that Pogačar's chances are arguably more limited, with a silver medal in the World's TT in 2017 at Bergen on a very similar course to Saturday's chrono as one major argument in his favour.

Asked about whether he would have a bike change in the time trial - a question that was much debated in the World's three years ago where Roglič ultimately opted to switch bikes at the foot of the final climb.

"We are already thinking about it, and we will consider it. But then that last decision will be taken just before the start - we'll see what makes the most sense," Roglič said.

There was a hint on Roglič's part that he all but considers the race to be won when asked if he had time to enjoy being the Tour leader and he responded said there would be "time to enjoy the yellow jersey after the Tour. But there are still some days to go, and we need to stay focussed."

Three days out from Paris, Roglič has come through this week and almost all of its obstacles with his lead intact or increased on each mountain stage. The battle, it seems, is all but over.