Pogacar riding with the punches

His adjustment to setbacks key to Tour win but will face new challenges in dynasty bid

Team UAE Emirates rider Tadej Pogacar of Slovenia celebrating on the podium in Paris after winning the Tour de France on his debut on Sunday. Rivals new and old will be looking to displace him next year.
Team UAE Emirates rider Tadej Pogacar of Slovenia celebrating on the podium in Paris after winning the Tour de France on his debut on Sunday. Rivals new and old will be looking to displace him next year.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PARIS • Tadej Pogacar pulled off one the biggest coups in Tour de France history and his boldness and talent have been widely acclaimed, yet it is too soon to tell if his title on Sunday will be the start of long-term domination.

The Slovenian, who celebrated his 22nd birthday yesterday, is the youngest Tour winner since Henri Cornet in 1904 and the first debutant to win the race since Laurent Fignon in 1983.

Despite early setbacks, Pogacar managed to turn the tables and tear apart his main rival Primoz Roglic's pre-written script. Recent Tour history, however, shows that pure talent is not always enough.

Pogacar lost key teammates Fabio Aru and Davide Formolo early in the Tour while his compatriot Roglic, who he leapfrogged in a memorable time trial on Saturday, could rely on the support of Jumbo-Visma, arguably the most formidable outfit in the race. But the Team UAE Emirates rider took his chances when he could, gaining 40 seconds on the Col de Peyresourde in the Pyrenees with an attack Roglic did not cover. The day before, Pogacar had lost 1 minute 21 seconds in crosswinds on a flat stage but he was not discouraged.

"If I have the legs, I attack," he said repeatedly, while Roglic rode conservatively, seemingly content with his advantage which had reached 57 seconds before the time trial.

Team Sky, who became Ineos and Ineos-Grenadiers, used their collective force to choke the opposition - setting a breathtaking pace to prevent attacks - and Jumbo-Visma applied the same tactics this year.

Australian Richie Porte, who finished third overall, said that plan might have served Pogacar well.

"In some respects, he was lucky that Jumbo-Visma set such a cracking pace on the climbs," said the Trek-Segagredo rider.

"If you're able to hold the wheel then you've got a bit of a free ride."

Roglic, whose meltdown on Saturday left him in tears, might never recover from the disappointment of losing the Tour on the last day, but the 30-year-old will be looking for revenge.

"It's not going to be like that next year. I think Pogacar is going to be a marked man," added Porte.

ON THE RADAR

It's not going to be like that next year. I think Pogacar is going to be a marked man.

RICHIE PORTE, Trek-Segafredo rider, on how the next Tour de France will play out.

The 23-year-old Egan Bernal was also widely tipped as a future Tour de France great but the Colombian appeared way off the pace before pulling out with back pains and he could now fall behind Giro d'Italia winner Richard Carapaz in the pecking order at Ineos-Grenadiers.

When Jan Ullrich won the 1997 title, he was also acclaimed as a potential great Tour de France rider, but the German never added to his only triumph.

Behind Pogacar, Belgian prodigy Remco Evenepoel, 20, is also waiting for his Tour de France debut, possibly in a couple of years.

For now though, Pogacar relished the moment on Sunday as he mounted the podium while the sun set behind Paris' Arc de Triomphe to pick up the best climber's jersey, the white top young rider's prize and finally the Tour winner's famous yellow jersey.

"I can't find the words to thank everyone, the fans cheered me all the way," he said after the ceremonial final stage into the French capital.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo stood alongside Slovenian President Borut Pahor while Pogacar unfurled his national flag and draped it over his shoulders.

"This is an incredible feeling, standing here in Paris on the top of the podium," Pogacar added.

"It was an amazing three weeks, an incredible journey."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2020, with the headline 'Pogacar riding with the punches'. Print Edition | Subscribe