Sitting on the tarmac, his shoes discarded next to him, sucking in air in great gulps of air with a stunned look on his face, Primoz Roglic could not believe what had just happened. Neither could anyone else watching on.
This was the Devon Loch of Tour de France finishes. A cycling version of Jean van de Velde’s collapse at Carnoustie in 1999.
Not since 1989, when the American Greg LeMond overturned a 50-second deficit to beat home favourite Laurent Fignon by eight seconds in a final-day time trial in Paris, had the Tour de France seen anything like it.
<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="In one of the most astonishing turnarounds in the history of the race, Tadej Pogacar, a 21-year-old from the village of Komenda (population 896) in Slovenia, defied all expectations on Saturday to thrash his compatriot and champion-elect Roglic in the penultimate-day time trial and effectively wrap up the maillot jaune. ” data-reactid=”36″>In one of the most astonishing turnarounds in the history of the race, Tadej Pogacar, a 21-year-old from the village of Komenda (population 896) in Slovenia, defied all expectations on Saturday to thrash his compatriot and champion-elect Roglic in the penultimate-day time trial and effectively wrap up the maillot jaune.
Tradition dictates that the yellow jersey is not attacked on the final day in Paris, meaning Pogacar will become the first Slovenian to win the Tour when the race arrives in the French capital, and the second youngest winner of all time after Henri Cornet, who won in 1904 just short of his 20th birthday.
The UAE Team Emirates rider will also take the white jersey for best young rider, and the polka dots jersey for best climber, denying Ineos Grenadiers’ Richard Carapaz, who had led that category by two points heading into Saturday’s stage and had the advantage – since he was not in general classification contention – of being able to go easy for the first 30km and then smash the final climb.
No one could touch Pogacar though. It was as if he was from a different planet altogether. Beginning stage 20 from Lure to La Planche des Belles Filles 57 seconds behind Roglic on GC, the expectation was the two Slovenians would be well matched in the 36.2km effort against the clock. If anyone was likely to have a bit more left in the tank it was thought to be Roglic who had been shepherded around France by Jumbo-Visma, comfortably this year’s strongest team.
But the 30-year-old, going off last, never looked entirely comfortable. At the first split, 12km in, last year’s Vuelta a Espana winner was already 13sec off the time of Pogacar but most assumed he was just playing it safe, conserving his energy, and would come on strong in the final climb.
By the time the riders switched bikes at the foot of the final climb – swapping their stiff TT bikes for road bikes better suited to climbing – it was clear something was seriously amiss. Roglic had trouble clipping in to the pedals and needed an excessively long push to get going. Up ahead of him, Pogacar was ploughing on relentlessly.
Roglic’s Jumbo-Visma team mates Wout van Aert and Tom Dumoulin, the latter having set the fastest time of the day at that point, could only watch in horror as the Tour and the stage slipped away from them.
It was quite stunning. By the time Roglic crossed the line, his specially crafted yellow TT helmet weirdly lopsided on his head, he was 1min 56sec behind the time set by his young compatriot. It was actually the fifth fastest time of the day. But still, it was well below what was expected of him, and what he expected of himself on a course that might have been built for him. There was a stunned atmosphere as everyone tried to process what happened.
“I don’t know. I think I’m dreaming,” Pogacar told television before Roglic, by now having come to his senses, came over to congratulate him.
Roglic, speaking later, was graciousness personified. “I had not the best day,” he admitted. “Tadej was a lot better. And yeah, he definitely deserved his win, so really really congrats. I just gave everything I had. That was all. For sure I can say I’m disappointed but on the other hand, still I can be proud about my second place.”
Elsewhere, Richie Porte [Trek-Segafredo] pipped Miguel Angel Lopez [Astana] to the final podium spot with an excellent ride, while Britain’s Adam Yates of Mitchelton-Scott will finish ninth in the general classification, 9min 25sec behind the winner. But the day belonged to Pogacar.
This result will not reverberate to quite the same extent as 1989 as it did not involve a Frenchman. But it was impossibly dramatic. And it will inevitably invite plenty of scepticism, given the scale of Pogacar’s win and cycling’s chequered past.
The hope is that Pogacar is one of a post-doping generation who have not had to face the same choices in order to get where they are. He said in his press conference later that he only got into the sport in 2010. “Back then I didn’t really know what it was all about,” he recalled. “I was cheering for [Alberto] Contador, [Andy] Schleck and guys like this. Now I’m here and I’m just so happy to be in yellow.”
He added that he felt pain for his friend Roglic. “I have so much respect for him. He’s a good friend of mine. I’m feeling his loss because he had to lose the yellow jersey.
“I’m just a kid from Slovenia with two sisters, one brother and I don’t know what to say, I like to have fun. I like to enjoy life and the little things. This press conference is too big for me.”