Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) is often spoken of as invincible, dominant, a generational talent, the second coming of the Cannibal, Eddy Merckx.
He is all those things except today, for five horrendous kilometers, on the hot and brutal climb up the Col du Granon. Today he was in difficulty, suddenly weak, all alone and very much human. He lost his yellow jersey in stunning fashion as Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) launched a hammer blow that would erase his 39 second deficit and instead put him ahead of Pogacar by a whopping 2:22 minutes.
It was a Pogacar we’ve never really seen and the shock turned the Tour de France upside down. The Slovenian could be beaten and beating badly as Jumbo Visma used their strength in numbers to break him.
It was a masterful plan, executed too perfection. On the preceding climb of the Galibier, it was Primoz Rogic and Vingegaard who attacked again and again, one after the other, as Pogacar was forced to respond, burning off his energy reserves far from the finish line. It seemed almost impossible but the Jumbo duo hit him four to five times, burning every match they had.
And yet, Pogacar refused to yield, everything under control, even at one point smiling for the motorbike cameraman. In the regrouping on the downhill off the Galibier, his UAE teammates were able to rejoin him and all looked to be in back in good shape. Even with his ace climbing domestique Sam Bennett out of the race with a Covid positive, he still had Marc Soler and Brandon McMulty and later, crawling his way back, Rafal Majka.
At that critical moment in the race, Vingegaard admitted he didn’t know if Pogacar was going full gas or not, saying he felt “insecure” about whether their relentless efforts had yielded any result whatsoever. INEOS Grenadiers seemed content to follow behind Jumbo Visma with Geraint Thomas and Adam Yates making the select handful of riders but simply following the wheels.
Had all this aggression come to nothing? Sure, they’d hit him with everything they had, Roglic going so deep that eventually he’d be dropped. Could they hope that at a minimum they’d tired him out before tomorrow’s monstrous day in the Alps — a triple shot of HC misery, the Col du Granon (again), then the Col de la Croix de Fer and finally, the legendary Alpe d’Huez?
Tadej Pogacar was still in yellow, on his way to his third consecutive Tour de France triumph. Until he wasn’t. Jonas Vingegaard decided it was now or never and blasted forward. Everyone was on the limit behind, the gap instantaneous. Loyal teammate Rafal Majka, who’d been incredible in pacing Pogacar, tried to lift the pace but saw his captain was in trouble. Millions of people watching around the world went into shock. The patron of the peloton was no longer the boss.
Vingegaard quickly pulled out 30 seconds, then 60, a minute, a minute and a half. Romain Bardet, Nairo Quintana and Geraint Thomas all jumped away from Pogacar. Adam Yates sat on the Solvenian’s wheel, just watching him lose the maillot jaune and perhaps Le Tour.
At the summit of the Col du Granon, it was Vingegaard who looked invincible and dominating and in the leaders jersey for the first time. It’s a long, long way to go in the Tour de France but today we learned something new about Tadej Pogacar — he’s human.