With a blank stare and a wide-open jersey, Tadej Pogacar struggled up the steep final ramp at Courchevel Airport in wavy lines. His dream of winning the Tour de France had long since been shattered, and the two-time champion suffered the bitterest defeat of his career on the king’s stage. The Slovenian is now a whopping 7:35 minutes behind leader Jonas Vingegaard, who can only be stopped by a fall on the last four stages.
“I do not know what happened. I was completely empty at the bottom of the final climb. I am very disappointed. I couldn’t recall my performance,” said Pogacar. He now wants to win the Vosges stage on Saturday. Whether Vingegaard gives him the freedom despite the huge lead is questionable. “Having over seven minutes is obviously great. But Pogacar never gives up. I’m sure he’ll try something,” Vingegaard said.
“I can not anymore. I’m dead,” Pogacar radioed to the team management on the brutal, 28-kilometer Col de la Loze. The most difficult section on the up to 24 percent steep alpine monster was far from being reached. It was still about 15 kilometers to the finish, his opponent Vingegaard accelerated immediately. Even a motorcycle blocking the way couldn’t stop the Dane on the way to the 2304 meter high top of the tour.
After the time trial the day before, the 24-year-old won the next showdown. In just two days, the most exciting tour in decades has become a one-man show by the slim man from Jutland. Its head of sports was still deep on the 2000 meter high airport. “Anything can happen. It’s possible that Jonas will be lying on his face tomorrow and then everything will be gone,” Grischa Niermann told ARD. “Under normal circumstances, that should work.”
The brutal stage with 5400 meters of altitude and four mountains began with a mishap for Pogacar. After 17 kilometers, the 24-year-old fell and suffered bleeding wounds on his left knee and elbow. At first, it didn’t seem like Pogacar was affected. Vingegaard’s jumbo team set the pace in the field, Pogacar didn’t leave his side.
Vingegaard’s incredible time trial, when he outpaced Pogacar by 1:38 and his teammate Wout van Aert by almost three minutes, continued to spark debate the day after. Such a dominance arouses skepticism in cycling because of the past.
The tour organ “L’Équipe” headlined a photo of Vingegaard “From another planet”. Even tour director Christian Prudhomme felt compelled to comment. “The questions about the various suspicions are absolutely not unjustified,” said the 62-year-old newspaper. A few days ago, Vingegaard himself said that he could understand the skeptics. He stressed that he would not take anything and his victories would never be stripped away.
Ultimately, the hardships were far too much for Phil Bauhaus. The sprinter was already left behind by the rest of the field after the first climb and drove alone in front of the sweeper car. The Bocholter finally gave up about 105 kilometers before the finish. Bauhaus attracted attention in the mass sprints of the tour with a second and two third places.
“If I fall out, it will be difficult,” Bauhaus had already said before the stage with a view to the Gruppetto. In this group, the sprinters come together in the mountains and support each other. After the individual time trial on Tuesday, Bauhaus was already complaining about being very tired and said: “The tour is by far the hardest thing I’ve done so far.”
The 28-year-old would have had another chance of a good result on Thursday. The 184.9 kilometers from Moutiers to Bourg-en-Bresse have only two small climbs in the fourth category, a total of only 1200 meters in altitude are collected. Belgian Jasper Philipsen will be hoping for his fifth stage win of this year’s Tour.