Tadej Pogacar of UAE Team Emirates has today put in the ride of his life to snatch the yellow jersey from fellow Slovenian Primoz Roglic of Jumbo-Visma and will ride into Paris tomorrow, the day before his 22nd birthday, to become the second-youngest winner in the history of the race.
Pogacar began the day with a deficit of 57 seconds to Roglic ahead of today’s 36.2km individual time trial from Lure to La Planche des Belles Filles.
His time of 55 minutes 55 seconds saw him take not only the yellow jersey, but also the stage, his third of the race, and the polka-dot jersey for best climber as well as the young rider’s classification.
He had eaten into around half of Roglic’s advantage as he started the final climb, both of the Slovenians electing to switch to a road bike for the ascent, with the change smoother for Pogacar than it was for his fellow countryman.
It was a portent of what was to come on the climb, as the 21-year-old quickly reduced the remaining deficit to Roglic and finished 1 minute 56 seconds ahead of the Jumbo-Visma man – giving him a lead of 59 seconds on the general classification ahead of his coronation as the winner of perhaps the strangest edition of the race in living memory in Paris tomorrow.
We’d predicted in our race preview that this stage could be decisive, and that a bike change could be influential, but no-one could have foreseen the way Pogacar dominated the final climb.
The handful of seconds he gained on Roglic through their bike changes at the foot of the ascent briefly looked as though it could decide the race.
Seasoned Tour de France watchers could even have been forgiven for wondering whether we might witness a closer finish than in 1989, when Greg LeMond won the final time trial from Versailles to Paris to beat Laurent Fignon by 8 seconds.
As it turns out, this will turn out to be only the 10th closest of the 107 editions of the race – beaten by 1 second by Carlos Sastre’s victory over Cadel Evans by 58 seconds in 2008.
But surely it is one of the most exciting penultimate stages most of us watching will ever have seen?
You have to go back nine years to 2011 for the last time the overall lead changed hands on the penultimate day – also, the only edition of the race in which three different riders were in the yellow jersey on the last three days.
Back then, however, it was widely expected that Cadel Evans would take enough time from Andy Schleck – who had taken the yellow jersey from Thomas Voeckler the previous day – to move into the race leadership ahead of the final stage.
Not so today.
It had seemed as though it was going to pan out to be a perfect day for Jumbo-Visma ahead of Roglic confirming his overall victory.
First Wout Van Aert, then Tom Dumoulin, looked set to take the stage win until Pogacar smashed their times out of sight.
Alongside team-mates including George Bennett and Sepp Kuss, they had worked hard for Roglic in the mountains to ensure his lead of almost a minute going into today’s stage, and they were there to console him at the end.
Unusually, today’s stage was the only one against the clock in this year’s race, and seldom has the description of it being the “race of truth” seemed more appropriate.
Pogacar’s post-race interview, conducted as it began to sink in that he had won the Tour de France, was briefly interrupted by Roglic, who despite the huge disappointment he must have felt, wanted to congratulate his friend and rival on his achievement.
And so, tomorrow, we head to Paris for a concluding stage that should see Sam Bennett of Deceuninck-Quick Step crowned the winner of the points classification.
It’s the only one of the four jerseys that Pogacar won’t have won this year.
Tadej Pogacar, Tour de France winner-in-waiting
I’m dreaming. I am very proud of this jersey that repays all the efforts made by the team up to this last phenomenal push to put me in yellow. I dreamed of winning this Tour since I was a boy and now it has come true.
I must say that the credit is not only mine, but of all the members of UAE Team Emirates and the sponsors who support us. We had come here to the TT for a reconnaissance, so I knew what we were going to do and I knew where to accelerate and where to manage the effort: today I only had to think about pushing hard from start to finish.
During the time trial I felt that I was going strong and this spurred me even more.
My dream as a cyclist was to participate in the Tour de France, winning it definitely goes further.
Second overall, Primoz Roglic
I didn’t have the legs to go faster today. I just couldn’t push harder. I couldn’t ride the watts I needed to win. I tried my best and gave it my all, but Tadej was just too strong.
I knew what times Tadej was riding, but in the end it didn’t matter because my legs were not good enough to anticipate on that. But despite the disappointment, I think we rode a very strong Tour as a team.
I want to thank the team for everything they have done for me over the past three weeks. I am proud of how we raced as a team and we need to take the positives out of it for the future.