What to say? How to arrange the many words of the English language in such a way as to accurately describe the sheer, lunatic surprise of Stage 20? The idea that second placed man Tadej Pogacar might overturn the fifty-seven second advantage of race leader Roglic to win the Tour de France was absurd.
Suggest that, pre-stage, in polite company, and you’d have had your I-understand-pro-cycling badge revoked whilst your rear-end was handed to you on a corona-sanitised UCI branded plate.
And yet happened.
The previous nineteen stages had been gripped tight, vice-like, by Roglic and his Jumbo Visma team. The Dutch outfit had assembled a squad of such delicious talent around the most reliable, predictable, unshakeable GC man in the sport.
Out Sky-ing Sky (not to mention Ineos), they had taken the process management of bike racing to a new level.
And yet, through hanging in, sometimes beating, and refusing to be truly dropped (see Stage 17 for the prime example of Pogacar fighting like a cornered croc to limit his losses), the stupidly young Slovenian (I mean seriously…twenty-one for f***’s sake!) derailed the whole show with a mountain time trial up La Planche des Belles Filles for the ages.
A triumph of improvised exuberance.
For the long rolling terrain of the thirty-five K time-trial Roglic was down, slightly, against his rival, but was still the winner of the 2020 Tour de France. He had time in hand. Jumbo Visma have crunched the numbers, see.
He’s being cautious. He’s judging effort. He’s a consummate pro. Pogacar will fade.
These are the things we all said, or at least thought.Embed from Getty Images
And then, at the base of La Planche, each rider took a bike change from the aero machine onto the climbing bike. Pogacar remained sprightly, like a very skinny bunny picking up the scent of a particularly luscious patch of leafy greens.
Roglic, at the same point, lost the plot. In the saddle, out of the saddle, wooden in style, helmet all askew, face pale. Oh my god, we mouthed, collectively, as one (except for the younger amongst us, who just went with OMG, followed by LOL, ‘cos they’re brutal like that)…he’s having a shocker.
Combine this bad day with Pogacar being clearly on a flyer (so much so he would win the stage, beating Dumoulin, Van Aert, et al) and cross reference it with the clock showing time splits suddenly, after three and a half thousand kilometres, in the youngster’s favour, and the Tour had done what the Tour sometime does.Embed from Getty Images
Flipped, in a split second, from one stone cold certain outcome to an entirely different one. Remain upright in Paris, tomorrow, and Tadej Pogacar has only gone and won the flippin’ Tour de France!
Factor in a Lazarus like third place finish for everyone’s favourite bad luck story Richie Porte and we’ve only gone and found ourselves, against the odds, a stone-cold classic.
Spare a thought, though, for Roglic. Teammates offered consoling hugs but he was elsewhere. Not in a mental place to receive a hug. A single bad day out of twenty and he’s in the gutter.