Tadej Pogacar powers up last mountain test to take Tour de France stage 18

Tadej Pogacar powers up last mountain test to take Tour de France stage 18

Tadej Pogacar climbed on to the Tour de France presentation podium overlooking the Pyrenean peaks, and, after celebrating his third stage win, pulling on the race leader’s yellow jersey, the best young rider’s jersey and the King of the Mountains jersey, sat down to speak.

“You never know,” he said. “It’s still three days to go, but it looks good.”

The Slovenian 22-year-old, a shock winner in last year’s Tour, is now a sporting phenomenon. He has eviscerated all-comers in this year’s Tour. He leads his closest rival, Jumbo-Visma’s Jonas Vingegaard, by almost six minutes, with Ineos Grenadiers’ leader, Richard Carapaz, a few seconds further adrift. Ben O’Connor, riding for AG2R Citroen, in fourth place, is more than eight minutes behind. And there is still Saturday’s final time trial to come.

Pogacar ended any further debates over his dominance with another summit finish victory in this Tour’s final mountain stage, to Luz Ardiden, in the French Pyrenees, 24 hours after winning on the Col du Portet.

As on stage 17, to the dizzying heights of the Portet, the denouement was between the trio vying for the Paris podium, Pogacar, Carapaz and Vingegaard.

As at the Col du Portet, Pogacar was just too hot for his rivals to handle and he again accelerated clear to take his second mountain-top finish and his third stage of the race.

“I don’t consider this the Pogacar era,” he said of his dominance. “That’s just stupid, in my opinion. But for sure, a new era is coming.

“We see so many youngsters stepping up to the highest level and we will see a lot of battles between everybody, so many young names. The next few years will be really tough.”

But Pogacar also said that he wanted to continue to enjoy racing. “My sports director, Andrej Hauptman, always says: ‘It’s just a game – one time you win, one time you lose, but always keep in mind to have fun.’ So even if I have bad days, I still see fun in that. After a bad day, comes a good day and today I was really enjoying the race.”

The Grenadiers, who have blown hot and cold throughout this race, were this time very much united and on the front foot on the final two climbs of the Tour, the Col du Tourmalet and Luz Ardiden, reviving memories of the Team Sky train that took Chris Froome to four Tour wins. But once again, it wasn’t enough to stop the young Slovenian.

“It was full-gas racing,” Pogacar said of the British team’s attempts to put him under pressure.

On the final climb, the pace set by Tao Geoghegan Hart and Jonathan Castroviejo – in an effort to provide a platform for team leader Carapaz to steal into second place overall – reduced the leading group, containing race leader Pogacar, until only a dozen or so riders remained.

Once again, however, Pogacar’s climbing speeds were too much and an acceleration from the defending champion, with a little over three kilometres to race, reduced the lead group to five riders.

A late flourish from Spain’s Enric Mas only delayed the inevitable and moments later Pogacar sprinted clear to yet another emphatic stage win.

But not all the post-race questions he faced were celebratory. Asked yet again about the doubts that hover over cycling, as evidenced by the preliminary investigation into the Bahrain Victorious team, Pogacar described the turn of events as “strange”.

“I don’t know what to comment about this,” he said. “It’s completely strange, but I guess it’s just one more control to see that nobody’s hiding anything. I think the results of the raid were good. It’s one more thing to control the sport.

“This new cycling is a way more beautiful sport than it was before, but I can only speak for myself.”