Tour de France favourite Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) finished a fraught stage 7 visibly satisfied at how, despite a notable early wobble, his squad had managed to lighten the damage inflicted by a 29-rider break on a very complicated day.
The 22-year-old admitted that the squad had made a mistake by letting so many riders go, although he partly put that down to bad luck.
His feelings about the overall outcome of the day were mixed as well. He was delighted for fellow Slovenian Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious), who claimed a spectacular solo win, and had sympathy for arch-rival and compatriot Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), who lost almost all options of winning this year’s Tour de France.
Pogačar was also relatively philosophical about riders with potential GC aspirations like Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) regaining time. His team had, he pointed out, successfully limited the break’s advantage, “because we couldn’t let them gain ten minutes.”
Van der Poel and Van Aert crossed the line 1:40 behind Mohorič, with Nibali at 2:57, while Pogačar finished in 26th spot, 5:15 back, shedding two minutes or more on the trio.
Pogačar has now fallen to 3:43 overall in fifth place, far more than the eight-second disadvantage he had on Van der Poel just 24 hours earlier.
That said, the next two days in the Alps should also provide a major shake up of the GC as well and a real evaluation of the three days of hilly and mountain racing can only be taken on Sunday evening.
“We tried to close the gap really fast, but we saw it was going like crazy from the beginning. The group snapped in half and it was a really unlucky moment,” he told reporters afterwards. “We knew it would be a tough stage and we made a little mistake. But we started to pull together and the team did fantastic job. I’m super-proud of them.”
He recognised that UAE Team Emirates had burned more than a few matches in what was a day-long pursuit on the longest stage of the Tour in 21 years.
“For sure” he confirmed. “But I know the team and they are strong, too. We’ll take it day by day and try and get through. For sure all of the teams were suffering in the heat today. I wasn’t the only one.”
Pogačar had a day where there were some narrow squeaks but where UAE Team Emirates strategy for the stage finally paid off albeit with some wobbles on all the key fronts.
Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) launched a gutsy solo attack over the toughest ascent of the day but rather than gain time he was brought back by the finish in part thanks to some hard work from Movistar. Both Van Aert and and Van der Poel gained time but not as much as was potentially feared. Even after his team worked all day, Pogačar still had a teammate, Rafal Majka, with him for support in the front group.
“We were told by the other teams we had to work because I was the strongest but I’m not necessarily always the strongest. The others can win too,” Pogačar commented.
“We needed to limit the gap and I think we did that well. Van Aert is a good climber, Van der Poel also goes well on the climbs. We couldn’t let them get ten minutes because that would have been dangerous.”
Apart from his own day of racing, Slovenian cycling had a stage where the glass was truly half empty or half full, depending on how you looked at it. An injured Roglič lost almost all options of fighting for victory in the 2021 race as he was dropped in the finale. But another compatriot, Mohorič, claimed a stunning win that finally laid memories of his appalling crash in this year’s Giro d’Italia to rest.
“I don’t know what to say about Primoz. I have mixed feelings I guess,” Pogačar commented. “But as for Matej, I’m super happy for him. He’s really nice guy. When I heard he’d won I was super happy as if he was one of our own.
“Of course I’m not so not so happy for Roglič. The way he went down [in defeat] for sure he suffered a lot.”
Regarding his options in the upcoming two Alpine stages some pundits have regarded his unwillingness or inability to follow Carapaz when he attacked as a potential chink in his armour. But Pogačar said simply he will be gauging his stage on how he feels on Saturday morning before racing begins.
“Today was also a very demanding day. I was in the wind for a long time as well. For sure I’ll pay for that a bit this weekend,” he observed. “So maybe I’ll just be following wheels and seeing how it goes. Now we have another strong guy ahead [Van Aert] to follow too.”
And if Friday was an appetiser for the climbs by Sunday, a lot more cards will be placed face upwards on the table for Pogačar and the rest.
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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