The day began, in Pau, with a police raid. Just like old times. Hotel doors knocked on, ‘evidence’ gathered, for an investigation by Marseille prosecutors into the alleged “acquisition, transportation, possession and importing of a prohibited substance or method for use by an athlete without justification by members of Team Bahrain Victorious.”
Innocent, until proven guilty.
We will see where this slightly depressing tale takes us.
The day continued, or at least ended, much as the previous one had: different Pyrenean mountains, a variation in supporting characters, but with Yellow Jersey Pogacar, apparently breathing through his ears to triumph atop the summit of Luz Ardiden.Embed from Getty Images
It was reassuring to see him, in the immediate post-stage interview, looking fairly wrecked, coughing and spluttering, and at least generally in the ball-park of someone who’d just done something epic.
Behind him, to the line, as yesterday, came precocious climber Jonas Vingegaard and punchy Ecuadorian former Giro d’Italia champ Richard Carapaz. In truth, though they finished in the same camera shot, Pogacar had swatted them away.
He was clearly digging deep, but always in control, and looking ridiculously relaxed for much of that final climb and the high altitude ascent of the Col du Tourmalet that preceded it. Post-stage, Pogacar suggested he now has at least a fifty percent chance of winning this Tour.
Nice one Tadej.
With two standard road stages and a TT to come he leads both Vingegaard and Carapaz by the thick end of six minutes. Barring the kind of incident not seen since English goalkeeper Dave Beasant ruled himself out of action for eight weeks after dropping a bottle of salad cream on his foot back in 1993, he’s won it.
With French president Emmanuel Macron following the action in the company of race boss Christian Prudhomme, both Julian Alaphilippe and David Gaudu had launched hail Mary attempts to deliver French glory across the last of this year’s mountains.
To no avail.
The field has been not so much whittled down as hacked to pieces with a shiny new axe. Our top three today, yesterday, and overall, are clearly a cut above the rest.
Let’s just remind ourselves that this is only Tadej Pogacar’s third Grand Tour appearance. He’s finished third at the Vuelta Espana, and is now on the cusp of winning a second Tour de France. He’s a mere twenty-two. I’m not sure I understand how cycling works anymore.
A Tour de France is no longer an older man’s game.
He will continue to be asked questions about doping, as he has already, because he’s so obviously superior, and because of the history of this sport. That’s the way it has to be. To have any understanding of this sport’s murky past and not at least consider the cleanliness of his performances would be daft.
C’est la vie.
Et vive le Tour.
(Top Image: Celeda, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)