Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates), winner of the last two editions of theTour de France, took victory on today’s summit finish at Peyragudes.
Hurrah, chapeau, champagne all around, and yet how disappointing.
Why does this feel like such a loss? A capitulation? An acceptance of an unhappy and brutally evident reality? Pogacar isn’t making up a two minute deficit to Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo Visma) with one final day in the high Pyrenees followed and a 40k time trial.
Game over, maillot jaune not undergoing a wardrobe change.
What transpired today on stage 17 from Saint Gaudens to Peyragudes was shocking but also not so very shocking. Pogacar began the day desperate for time and desperate for teammates. He was down to three support riders, only one of them a pure climber of any use when the explosions happen.
When his chain broke yesterday Rafal Majka suffered a significant quad injury. Despite his effort this morning on the indoor trainer, it was clear to everyone from Majka to the sports science staff that his 2022 Tour was over. UAE shrinking fast.
The same was atrue for the other climbing domestique Marc Soler, who has a gastrointestinal issue on stage 16. Despite a heroic effort effort, he could not beat the time cut. This left American Brandon McNulty as the only UAE rider capable of helping Pogacar in his last ditched, increasing bleak effort to reduce his two minute deficit.
McNulty was absolutely brilliant. He produced the most impressive grand tour stage ride in his young career. He was as impressive and as invaluable as Vingegaard’s mountain goat Sepp Kuss has been. In fact, more impressive after Kuss was dropped today, ending up with Geraint Thomas (INEOS Grenadiers) limiting damages and saving his legs for the final outrage tomorrow.
If I’m McNulty, I’m going to have a hard time mustering the same energy and motivation for the final Pyrenean stage over the HC Col d’Aubisque, Cat 1 Col de Spandelles and the final torture test of this tour, the mighty HC Hautacam. When you dig deeper into the hurt locker than ever, a four second gain isn’t much of a payback. At that rate it would take Pogacar another 20 stages to catch back up to the Dane.
The biggest shock was the smile on Pogacar’s face when he crossed the finished line for the stage win. In that moment, he looked happy, like he’s just pulled off the ride of his life to pull back those two minutes. Instead his smile was an acknowledgement that he’d made the best of a massive disappointment. He’s lost the Tour but picked this third stage win as a consolation prize.
It’s perhaps charming and admirable that he was able to shift his priorities so quickly. A Buddhist moment of acceptance and happiness for what had still been accomplished. He felt no need to lash himself or indulge in what-ifs, miscalculations or regrets about team strength and bad luck. Pogacar races freely and he is equally at peace then his race doesn’t turn out as hoped. That is another strength that will serve him well in the grand tours to come.
For Vingegaard, it was almost too perfect a day. Pogacar tried one hard attack just before the summit of the Col de Val Louron-Azet to no avail and then it was a matter of wheeling following. The Slovenian did get his hard fought ten second time bonus for first (versus the Dane’s six second second place bonus) but it wasn’t even a small psychological blow. It was an admission for defeat — Pogacar has resigned himself to second on the podium at the 2022 Tour de France. Better luck next year.