There was a moment, with around thirty kilometres of today’s mountainous alpine stage remaining, when Tadej Pogacar could hold back no more. With a look in his childlike eyes that said ‘I have the good legs, and no-one can do anything about it,’ he attacked what was left of the main field.
Fellow Tour contender Richard Carapaz followed, straining to hold the Slovenian’s wheel. And from there, after towing the Ecuadorian along for a while, Pogacar asked him a question.
‘Shall we work together Richard, or should I drop you?’
He asked the question via the medium of flicked elbow; the recognised signal for come through pal and take your turn. Carapaz stayed on Pogacar’s wheel, Pogacar shrugged and launched solo, and that was that.
The former Giro d’Italia champion, a fine cyclist in his own right, was powerless to chase. Pogacar was on the rampage.
We could see immediately, from the intensity of that muscular style of Pogacar’s – like a panther on a bike, if you can imagine such a thing – that he was about demolish this Tour de France.Embed from Getty Images
By the bottom of the final climb of the day, the Col de la Colombiére, Pogacar was three minutes behind stage-leading Canadian Mike Woods, who in turn was gamely holding Belgian Dylan Teuns at bay. The TV director would flick up to the front of the race, to see how that pair looked, and each time the cameras returned to Pogacar another thirty seconds had been reclaimed.
Powering in the big ring, on this seven-kilometre climb, he flew past each straggling former breakaway rider he encountered like a sixth former at the year six sports day.
No team. No tactics. Just the strongest rider in this race laying down an almost certainly race defining, quite possibly career defining display of utter domination. I exaggerate not: it was sensational.
Over the summit of the Colombiére came a fast descent into the finish town of le Grand Bornand. By this point our man had picked off Simon Yates, Ion Izagirre, Guillaume Martin, Mike Woods, and a clutch of others, and in the process reduced Teuns’s lead to thirty seconds.
It was only on the descent that Pogacar eased off. You sense the kid-on-a-bike in him wanted to chase down the leader and win the stage, but that would risk chucking the Tour de France off the wrong edge of a precipitous bend having already put three minutes and more into his nearest major rival Carapaz.
You also sense the raised voice of a team boss in his ear reminding him of exactly that.
In the end, Pogacar crossed the line fourth. Izagirre and Woods had clawed him back as he eased off, after Dylan Teuns had taken the win. But make no mistake: To deliver such a crushing move, alone, on the strength of his legs alone…this was special.
Had he gone on to catch Teuns and win we would be talking about a historic performance. When the dust has settled, and depending how the race pans out from here, we might anyway.
Pogacar is now in Yellow. His nearest genuine overall challengers are Rigoberto Uran at 4 min 46 and Richard Carapaz at 5 mins 01. Geraint Thomas and Primoz Roglic have succumbed to their Stage 3 injuries and tumbled out of contention.
There’s a long way to go, etc. etc., but we have, after eight stages, a massive favourite.