His lead is just 11 seconds after Tuesday’s dramatic finish, but two-time defending champion Tadej Pogacar looks to be in control of the Tour de France and is starting to put his rivals out of the race.
With 10 of the 21 stages completed, the Slovenian Pogacar had already left the primary favourite, his compatriot Primoz Roglic, a long way off, nearly three minutes behind in 13th place. At the moment, only Danish rider Jonas Wingegaard, who is third, 39 seconds behind, still seems to have a real shot at beating Pogacar. The next two riders in the overall standings, Britain’s Geraint Thomas and Adam Yates, are now more than a minute behind the leader.
Even the second-placed rider, Germany’s Lennard Kemna, feels more privileged for the leader’s yellow jersey than a true rival; Kemna only holds his current position because he lost more than eight-and-a-half minutes to the leader as part of a long-shot group that included Tuesday’s stage winner, Denmark’s Magnus Kort. Almost no one expects Kämna to hang on his head for a long time.
Now with two of the toughest stages of the race to go, including the spectacular climb of L’Alpe d’Huez on Wednesday, Pogacar has the chance to put the hammer in the race with 10 days to go.
Race historians know that the Tour is won in the mountains, but Pogacar dropped his hand on the opening stage of the race on July 1 and finished third in the eight-mile time trial, which was hardly his specialty.
He took the lead last Thursday on stage 6, a hilly but not really hilly section, taking the lead uphill and sprinting away from the lead group.
On the second day, the race entered the mountains with a proper finish in the Super Planche des Belles Filles Alps, a climb that culminates in a punishing 24 percent dirt track. Pogakar led a group that included all the major candidates to chase down the separatist rider. As they reached the finish line, Wingegaard tried to take advantage of the break away from his rivals and appeared to win the stage. But Pogakar found other gear and handed it to him in stages for victory.
Such impressive displays have led some fans and pundits to award Pogacar the overall win already, barring a crash, injury or spectacular loss of form.
If he’s going to break through, or if Wingegard or anyone else is going to seriously challenge him, it could happen in the next two days.
Wednesday’s stage sends the riders over four important Alpine mountains, including the Serpentine Telegraph and the race’s highest point, the Galibier, before finishing on the narrow Col du Granon, the last climb of the Tour in 1986, on the day American Greg. Lemond took over the yellow jersey.
On Thursday, the Tour organizers will somewhat sadistically send the riders to the Galibier and then the Croix de Fer. This climb is followed by the Tour’s most recognizable mountain, the spectacular Alpe d’Huez, which is part of the race route for the first time since 2018. Endless switchbacks on this climb almost always provide drama, be it a duel. Among the leaders or a solo coronation for the dominant rider.
One possibility this week, as seen in some previous rounds, is that Pogacar plays it safe and avoids a major attack, and instead simply chooses to close in on his rivals and hold on to the lead, perhaps gaining a few seconds at the end of the stages. . If that happens, the race will remain in the balance for next week’s climb in the Pyrenees.
But this year, so far, Pogacar has shown a tendency not to hold back, but to use his abilities to win stages and make it difficult for his opponents. That’s what he tried to do again on Tuesday when he broke away from the group Wingegard was in for the line, looking back as he did so to see how much of a gap he had opened, how many precious seconds he could gain.
Those looking for a surprise might point out that Pogakar has lost two of his seven teammates to Covid, leaving his team, UAE Team Emirates, a little short.
But if Pogacar, still only 23, gets even more time on Wednesday and Thursday, he could lock up the yellow jersey and the race.