Tadej Pogačar’s dominance on this Tour de France has long suggested that he is in a race without rivals, but the maillot jaune maintains that everyone within the top-10 overall is a threat. Maybe it’s all in the eye of the beholder.
Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) moved into second overall on stage 14 after fighting his way into the break as the Tour hit the foothills of the Pyrenees, and the Frenchman even shaved more than a minute off Pogačar’s buffer in the process.
But while the gap now stands at 4:04, Pogačar suggested his hold on the race was firmer at the finish in Quillan than it had been at the start in Carcassonne.
"I wasn’t really concerned about Guillaume Martin," Pogačar said. "We know we can’t allow him too big a time gain because he is super strong, but four minutes is still a good gap for me on him.
"Now it’s other teams who need to chase him, and that is going to be very useful in the coming days. I think we are in a better position now than we were before the stage."
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Martin is the fourth rider to occupy second place behind Pogačar since he seized yellow with his show of force on the Col de Romme a week ago after Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Ben O’Connor (AG2R Citroën) and Rigoberto Uràn (EF-Nippo). Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) has been aggressive, while Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) – 4th at 5:32 – is the only rider to have troubled Pogačar in direct confrontation, but the Slovenian was reluctant to single out one of his distant rivals over the others.
"That’s a hard question, who’s the most dangerous. I don’t know," Pogačar said. "We saw on Mont Ventoux that Vingegaard is super strong, but I think everybody in the top-10 on GC is pretty dangerous.
"Five to eight minutes is not hard to get if I have a bad day or they go in breakaways, so I think everybody in the top-10 is really dangerous. We have to look out for them."
Vingegaard’s show of force atop the Giant of Provence notwithstanding, one senses that only a remarkable set of circumstances can discommode Pogačar on this Tour.
The blistering start to Saturday’s stage suggested it was the kind of day that might descend into chaos, but once the winning move finally went clear, UAE Team Emirates were able to impose order on the reduced peloton, which came in a little under seven minutes down on stage winner Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo).
"I think we already showed we were a super strong team, and once more today we showed what we could do," said Pogačar. "We were still riding like hell and really pushing it together, so we are really confident before the next days. Even though Rafal [Majka] crashed yesterday, he was super good on the bike today already."
The Tour returns to the high mountains on Sunday when the race traverses the Port de l’Envalira and Col de Beixalis before descending to the finish in Andorra-La-Vielle.
The microstate holds a particular resonance for Pogačar, who won his first-ever Grand Tour stage there on the 2019 Vuelta a España, when he beat Nairo Quintana to the line on the summit finish at Cortals d’Encamp.
"I have good memories with Andorra," said Pogačar. "That was pretty emotional with my girlfriend there, so I will always be happy to come back to Andorra. Tomorrow is an exciting stage. I think we are ready, we know the course and we are confident for the next days."
The mighty Envalira is where the previously impregnable Jacques Anquetil suffered his most obvious crisis on the 1964 Tour, while the short but steep haul up the Beixalis will offer Pogačar his most public test since he betrayed the faintest signs of weakness atop Mont Ventoux in midweek.
He managed that mild emergency with considerable calm, and he shrugged off the idea that he might face a renewed onslaught from Vingegaard in Andorra on Sunday afternoon.
"I’m not nervous about it, I’ve been attacked before many times," Pogačar said. "It’s part of racing and I really enjoy it, even if sometimes I cannot follow, because that’s cycling. It’s really nice, one day one rider is stronger and the next day it’s a different guy."
Most days on this Tour, of course, Pogačar has been the strongest rider, as his advantage in the overall standings indicates.
"I will ride defensively tomorrow, because my first goal is to defend the yellow jersey," he said. "But, if an opportunity comes, I will try to grab it."
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