Defending Tour de France champion and runaway leader Tadej Pogacar will ride into Paris later Sunday where he will, barring a disaster, pull on the overall leader’s yellow jersey beneath the Arc de Triomphe as the sun sets on a dominant win. Pogacar stole in at the 11th hour to win the 2020 Tour de France, but this year he stamped his authority in the first week and rode the 21 days of the world’s greatest bike race head and shoulders above his rivals.
What would normally be just a ceremonial run into the French capital also has a sense of the end of the old era too as 36-year-old Mark Cavendish attempts to win one last time and beat the tally of 34 stage wins he shares with Eddy Merckx. The two men will share the spotlight, with the bullish Cavendish likely to feature strongly on the eight laps of the Champs-Elysees sprint where he can clinch a spectacular fifth win on a Tour for which he was only called at the last second.
The 22-year-old Pogacar’s work is done, and Merckx tipped the Slovenian to take a tilt at his “real record” of five Tour de France wins.
“He looks like the new ‘Cannibal’,” Merckx said Friday in reference to the Belgian legend’s famous nickname. Pogacar “rode between the raindrops” after surviving a litany of crashes as the Tour embarked from the nation’s western tip at the Atlantic port of Brest. The Slovenian then pulverized his rivals in the first time-trial as the race headed towards the Swiss and Italian border ski resorts where he also held his own.
The UAE Team Emirates leader then produced a pair of joyful mountain victories in the Pyrenees to rubber stamp his status as the best rider on the Tour this year. He will also win the awards for best rider under-25 and the king of the mountains polka-dot jersey, a triple he also achieved on his debut last year.
The Monaco resident, who earns 5.9 million dollars per year, said he had had fun, but was delighted to have survived a bad day Saturday in the sizzling heat of the time-trial run to Saint-Emilion.
“It was very hot and I was suffering a bit. But I’m super happy. It still was a super performance,” said Pogacar.
“What a demanding three weeks it has been,” he said ahead of his trip to Tokyo on Monday for the Olympic Games.
Jumbo’s Jonas Vingegaard goes into the final day run in second, while Ineos’ Richard Carapaz is in third.
“I’d have told anyone they were nuts,” Vingegaard said when asked what he would have replied if told three weeks ago he’d be second on the Tour de France.
“Tadej was so strong in the rainy stages, he won it there in the rain,” he said.
RBA/AFP Photos: Bettini