Race is still wide open, says Tour de France leader Pogacar

The Slovenian beat last year’s runner-up Jonas Vingegaard in the first mountain-top finish on Friday

UAE Team Emirates rider Tadej Pogacar cycles past the finish line to win the seventh stage on Friday. — AFP
UAE Team Emirates rider Tadej Pogacar cycles past the finish line to win the seventh stage on Friday. — AFP

By Reuters/AFP

Published: Fri 8 Jul 2022, 11:58 PM

Tadej Pogacar has been in a class of his own since the Tour de France started last week, but the twice defending champion insisted on Friday that the race was far from over.

The Slovenian impressed in the opening time trial, gained time on his rivals on the cobbles in Wednesday’s fifth stage before winning two stages in a row, beating last year’s runner-up Jonas Vingegaard in the first mountain-top finish on Friday.

He leads the Dane by 35 seconds going into the Alps, where he will be further tested by the only rider who made him suffer last year in the mountains.

“It was a great first seven days, but we saw some guys were super strong and today was just a single climb,” the 23-year-old said after pipping Vingegaard to the line at the end of a 7-km ascent at 8.7%.

“The gap (in the overall standings) is not huge so it’s still wide open.”

Pogacar expects to be attacked in the mountains, especially by Vingegaard’s Jumbo Visma team who, with Ineos-Grenadiers, have the most formidable squads in the race.

Pogacar is not afraid, however.

“On the climbs it’s a matter of strength. For sure we will have a lot of competition but for me it’s the same whether everyone races against me or not,” said Pogacar.

“I just have to push on the pedals and give everything.”

One of his main rivals, 2020 runner-up Primoz Roglic, is already 2:45 behind having crashed on Wednesday.

The Slovenian suffered a dislocated shoulder and is now experiencing back pains even though he limited the damage on Friday.

“Every pedal stroke was like a knife in the back. My goal was to go through the stage and recover,” said Roglic, who is optimistic about the next few days.

“I’m definitely super happy about it. When you’re injured you never know what to expect in the next days and you just try to pull through.”

Emerging from a cloud of dust in the final kilometre raced on dirty roads, German Lennard Kaemna looked close to victory as he led the group of favourites by some 40 seconds.

That is when Pogacar decided to take the matter into his own hands as the gradient went over 20%, putting the hammer down in the first mountain-top finish of the race.

The 23-year-old’s acceleration left his rivals gasping for air but Vingegaard managed to take his wheel and countered after the duo caught Kaemna with less than 100 metres to go.

The Dane had a couple of bike lengths on Pogacar and seemed to be heading for victory when the UAE Team Emirates rider produced a final burst of speed to go around Vingegaard and take his second stage win in two days. “It was so hard, I was really on the limit,” said Pogacar. “Jonas was really strong at the end and I had to give it all.

“It was important for me to win this, I know it’s a lot of work, but this stage means a lot to me,” said Pogacar. Pogacar’s family and girlfriend were waiting at the finish line as stewards attended to the exhausted Vingegaard, guiding his bike out of the way of the following riders.

Overall, Pogacar leads Vingegaard by 35 seconds with Britain’s Geraint Thomas sitting in third place, one minute and 10 seconds off the pace.

Thomas’s Ineos-Grenadiers team, with four riders in the top 10 overall, will be looking to blow the race open when it hits the Alps on Sunday.

Russian Aleksandr Vlasov, one of the riders tipped to make it onto the podium in Paris, was dropped with 4km left and lost 1:39.

Kaemna took fourth place while Thomas was fifth, both crossing the line 14 seconds behind the yellow jersey holder.

France’s David Gaudu finished sixth, 19 seconds adrift, to move up to fifth overall, 1:31 off the pace and 13 seconds behind Briton Adam Yates, who is fourth.

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