UAE Team Emirates' Pogacar rises in the mountains and takes Tirreno-Adriatico lead
The Slovenian held off a late pursuit by Simon Yates
Tour de France champion and UAE Team Emirates' rider Tadej Pogacar surged through the snows to the lone mountain-top finish in the Tirreno-Adriatico on Saturday to wrest the race lead from Wout Van Aert.
The 148 kilometre stage from Terni ended with a ferocious battle between a group of elite riders up the 14.7 climb to Prati di Tivo.
The Slovenian held off a late pursuit by Simon Yates to edge the Briton by six seconds with Colombian Sergio Higuita leading the remnants of the group of contenders home 29 seconds back.
Pogacar took over the race lead from Belgian Van Aert of Jumbo Visma, who limited the damage by finishing ninth, 45 seconds back, after a gritty ride.
“Today I had a battle with myself the last few Ks,” Pogacar said at the finish.
“Simon was coming close in the end, but I struggled to the finish. I did everything I could. It was a fast climb. It was a super climb.”
The long final ascent was marked by a string of attacks including jabs by the two Ineos former Tour de France winners Egan Bernal and Geraint Thomas.
Pogacar caught Welshman Thomas and then, with 5.6km to go, powered away alone.
“When I went on the attack, I tried to get rid of everyone,” said Pogacar. “I tried to be alone and go my own tempo.”
Yates, of BikeExchange, finally gave chase, but like his brother Adam of Ineos, who finished second to Pogacar in the UAE Tour last month, could not quite match the Slovene.
The burly Van Aert, who at around 78 kilogrammes is less well suited to climbing than the wiry mountain men such as Pogacar, refused to be distracted by the sudden accelerations of his rivals.
He slogged up the slope at an unwavering tempo as more natural climbers such as Colombian Bernal, Thomas and French world champion Julian Alaphilippe all cracked.
Bernal and Thomas crossed the line together 58 seconds after Pogacar.
Pogacar took a 35-second lead over Van Aert in the overall standings with Higuita of Education First jumping to third on the same time.
Sunday’s 205km stage from Castellalto to Castelfidaro finishes with a dozen short, sharp hills.
The race ends on Tuesday with a 10.1km time trial, and although Pogacar won the Tour de France with a victory in a race against the clock, the short, flat course could favour van Aert.
“Every second is good,” said Pogacar. “But tomorrow is a super hard day, also a time trial in the end, I think it’s going to be really tight battle for the finish.”
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