Tour de France: UAE Team Emirates' Pogacar ready for tough challenge
Chris Froome backs Pogacar to win the Tour de France title again
Austrian Patrick Konrad won a hilly stage 16 of the Tour de France on Tuesday after joining an early breakaway and then attacking solo from 38km out on a rainy run through the Pyrenees.
Overall leader Tadej Pogacar of UAE Team Emirates and his general classification rivals kept their powder dry with two giant days in the Pyrenees coming up with summit finishes on both Wednesday and Thursday.
The contenders for the final victory in Paris on Sunday rode the 169km course at a relatively gentle pace and were trailing the 29-year-old Bora-Hansgrohe man by some 14 minutes when he raised his hands in victory after an unseasonably cold run.
An elite clique of 15 riders including all the top 11 in the general classification broke off the front of the peloton just outside Saint-Gaudens with Slovenian Pogacar, EF man Rigoberto Uran, Ineos rider Richard Carapaz all finishing in the same time after a last-gasp burst of speed.
On an overcast day in the Pyrenees the peloton embarked from Pas de la Casa in the Principality of Andorra where the roads appeared even narrower with the wet, overhanging foliage.
Green jersey Mark Cavendish and a ten-man grupetto of stragglers fell off the back but made it home within the time cut.
Konrad has been close twice before on this Tour de France, a factor that drove him to attack.
“It makes me really proud,” said the Austrian champion after his first ever Tour de France win.
“I’ve been in three breaks already, and I had waited until too late. Today I said to myself I am the guy and I had the legs to bring it to the finish,” he said after being chased over the final 30km by David Gaudu and Sonny Colbrelli.
After Monday’s final rest day and Pogacar leading the others in the top five by more than five minutes there was little appetite for a major attack with three potential chances to overturn the order, starting with two summit finishes Wednesday and Thursday and Saturday’s individual time-trial to Saint-Emilion likely to deliver the champion.
Pogacar got the backing of four-time winner Chris Froome on Tuesday morning with the Israel Start up man backing him to win again.
“If Pogacar can stay on the bike then it’s over,” Froome said.
Pogacar seemed as relaxed as ever after the 16th stage.
“I like this weather, and I hope it’s like this tomorrow,” said the 22-year-old.
“We are going to ride as hard as we can, it will be a big ‘GC’ battle,” he said.
The race began with the rare sight of the entire peloton shuddering to a halt and engaging in a mass shedding of cold weather clothes after a 20km neutralised downhill start.
British rider Mark Cavendish kept the green jersey and has two opportunities on Friday and on the Champs-Elysees on Sunday to beat Eddy Merckx’s all time record after his four stage wins so far saw the Manxman equal the tally of 34 set by the great Belgian 46-years ago.
The race for the Polka-dot jersey will be tense as former Sky man Wout Poels leads just ahead of Michael Woods of Canada and Nairo Quintana of Colombia.
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