Tadej Pogacar stepped onto the podium of the Tour de France presentation with a view of the peaks of the Pyrenees and, after celebrating his third stage win, sat down in the leader’s yellow jersey, the best young rider’s jersey and the king of the mountains jersey pulled over to speak.
“You never know,” he said. “There are still three days, but it looks good.”
The 22-year-old Slovene, last year’s tour shock winner, is now a sporting phenomenon. He gutted all-comers on this year’s tour. He leads his fiercest rival Jonas Vingegaard from Jumbo-Visma a few seconds ahead of the leader of the Ineos Grenadiers, Richard Carapaz, with a lead of almost six minutes. Ben O’Connor, who drives for AG2R Citroen, is in fourth place more than eight minutes behind. And the last time trial is on Saturday.
Pogacar ended all further debates about his dominance with another summit victory on the last mountain stage of this tour to Luz Ardiden in the French Pyrenees, 24 hours after the victory on the Col du Portet.
As on the 17th stage, in the dizzying heights of the Portet, the breakup was between the trio that vied for the Paris podium, Pogacar, Carapaz and Vingegaard.
As with the Col du Portet, Pogacar was just too hot for his rivals and he accelerated again without a mistake to reach his second mountain finish and his third leg of the race.
“I don’t see this as the Pogacar era,” he said of his dominance. “In my opinion, that’s just stupid. But a new era is sure to come.
“We’re seeing so many young people rising to the highest level and we’re going to see a lot of fights between everyone, so many young names. The next few years will be really tough. “
But Pogacar also said that he wanted to continue enjoying racing. “My sporting director Andrej Hauptman always says: ‘It’s just a game – once you win, once you lose, but always remember that it’s fun.’ So even when I have bad days, I still see it as fun. After a bad day comes a good day and today I really enjoyed the race. “
The grenadiers, who stayed hot and cold during this race, were very united this time and on the last two climbs of the tour, the Col du Tourmalet and Luz Ardiden, they were at the forefront and leave memories of the Team Sky-Zug alive took Chris Froome to four Tour wins. But this time it was not enough to stop the young Slovenian.
“It was full throttle,” said Pogacar of the British team’s attempts to put him under pressure.
On the last climb, the speed set by Tao Geoghegan Hart and Jonathan Castroviejo – in order to offer team boss Carapaz a platform to slip into second place overall – reduced the top group with the leader Pogacar to just a dozen riders.
But again, Pogacar’s rate of climb was too high and the defending champion’s acceleration of a little more than three kilometers before the race reduced the leading group to five drivers.
A late appearance by Spaniard Enric Mas only delayed the inevitable, and shortly thereafter Pogacar sprinted clear to another emphatic stage win.
But not all of the race questions he faced were solemn. When asked again about the doubts that hover over cycling, as the preliminary investigations against the Bahrain Victorious team showed, Pogacar described the turn of events as “strange”.
“I don’t know what to say about that,” he said. “It’s completely strange, but I think it’s just another check to see that no one is hiding anything. I think the results of the raid were good. It is one more thing to control the sport.
“This new cycling is a much nicer sport than it used to be, but I can only speak for myself.”