We were getting to the point of the race where it was noted that Tadej Pogacar had thus far ‘only’ won a time trial, and not a full road stage. Harsh, perhaps, as he began the day leading this Tour de France by over four minutes, but this is how it works. The Yellow Jersey has to win a stage to crown his achievement.
Ideally a big whopper in the mountains. On Bastille day too…that would help.
Stage 17, in the Pyrenees, was exactly that. The Col du Portet, our summit finish, loomed on the horizon. Reputedly the toughest climb of the race, with sixteen kilometres of leg sapping gradient.
The Pyrenees, as they often are, were well aware of the script, and draped the flanks of this great hill with a thick, atmospheric mist, as the key kilometres unfolded.Embed from Getty Images
Pogacar, his team having worked hard all day, unleashed himself with eight and a half kilometres to go and the race was in bits. Carapaz, Vingegaard, O’Connor and Uran followed, so Pogacar attacked again, cat-like and supple, and reduced it to three.
Our Slovenian leader, trailed by the young Dane Jonas Vingegaard and cheeky Ecuadorian monkey Richard Carapaz, “baring his teeth,” noted Eurosport’s Brian Smith, “…I’m not sure if that’s pain or aggression.”
In fact, it was secret option number three: Oscar-worthy acting.
As Pogacar drove the pace Vingegaard chipped in to help while Carapaz hung lame at the back. Waved through to take a turn on the front, he refused. Only a matter of time before he gets dropped, we assumed, and settled in for a two-up fight for the stage win.
Way up into the clouds, Carapaz remained third wheel. Grimacing, gurning, on the verge of utter collapse. And then…SURPRISE! With just over a kilometre to go Carapaz, reborn, it’s a miracle! One, big attack, and Pogacar had a split second to note just what a naughty boy Carapaz had been for the last seven kilometres before being forced to surge and close the gap.
Vingegaard, distanced briefly, chased too.
For Carapaz, alas, it wasn’t enough.
With a hundred and twenty metres to go, all three gasping great lungfulls of air, Pogacar did his duty as race leader to make one final, imperious move to sweep to the line and win. The clouds parted. Our winner grasped at the Jersey with delight, collapsed briefly to nearly die from the effort, before immediately perking up to resemble a twenty-two-year-old lad who’s just engaged in some mild exercise.
For Richard Carapaz, Hollywood is already no doubt on the phone. The movie offers will be rolling in. The Yellow Jersey is firmly with Pogacar. Jonas Vingegaard wears the colours of Best Young Rider. And best supporting actor?
There’s only one contender.