In this, the era of wafer-thin Grand Tour winning margins, reigning Tour champ and visually adolescent boy Tadej Pogacar has scorched clear of his rivals. With five stages ticked off he sits 1:36 clear of Richard Carapaz, 1:40 ahead of countrymate Primoz Roglic, and 1:46 in advance of Geraint Thomas.
Under the radar, ghosting through the kilometres, for four stages he has avoided incident and accident like, well…a Tour champ. Those around him have flailed and floundered, skin side down on the Tarmac.
Roglic and Thomas, one bandaged up like a mummy, the other with a freshly popped shoulder swelling painfully back into its joint, were undoubtedly affected by injuries sustained on Stage 3 and carried into today’s Stage 5 Time-Trial from Changé to Laval Espace Mayenne.
Normally so good against clock, the pair were decimated by Pogacar.
Who, by contrast, rolled up to today’s start ramp with a spring in a step and a good nights sleep in his body. A luxury probably not currently available to crash victims Roglic and Thomas.
Carapaz, by all accounts healthy, was simply well beaten.
In winning the stage Pogacar leapt up to second overall, installed himself as the raging favourite to retain his title, and sits behind only imperious Yellow Jersey wearer Mathieu van der Poel. Poulidor’s Grandson rode the TT of his life to cling onto Yellow and ensure he wrings every drop from his moment.
Not a challenger to Pogacar once the road heads into the mountains, even the Slovenian doesn’t appear to begrudge MVDP another day or two in the Jersey.
We had wondered whether Julian Alaphilippe might reprise his startling TT performance in Pau, back in 2019, where he’d announced himself as a genuine Tour contender and lit the French public up like a petrol-doused barbecue. But today, he too was more than a minute down.
Still smiling, obviously, and no doubt busting dance moves on the team bus and flitting around the hotel like a kid going at a bumper bag of Haribo Tangfastics, he sits forty seconds down overall to Pogacar. We’re not ruling him out while simultaneously not quite ruling him in either.
And there you have it.
Not a dramatic day. Certainly not entertaining. More of a functional, pack-shuffler of a TT, inserting a sense of order into a ragged and reckless 2021 edition of this soap-opera-cum-bike-race.
Pogacar is now, officially, looking imperious. There is a heck of along way to go to Paris and a hundred stories yet to be told about this race, but right now he’s in a happy place.