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Tadej Pogacar’s ascent to the top of the GC standings on Saturday’s stage 20 of the Tour de France came as a shock to most people around the world of cycling, but apparently not to Eddy Merckx.
In Merckx’s opinion, Jumbo-Visma should have seen Pogacar’s challenge for yellow coming, and acted accordingly. The five-time Tour winner did not mince words in an interview with L’Equipe after Pogacar’s TT triumph.
“They mostly rode stupidly,” Merckx said of Jumbo-Visma. “For three weeks we saw them ride at full speed, letting nothing pass. They dominated, controlled everything, but they only forgot one guy, this young 21 year old at only 50 seconds back. What an error of judgment! They caught themselves their own trap.”
For Merckx, the threat Pogacar posed – at 57 seconds back going into stage 20, to be precise – should have been “obvious” to Roglic and Jumbo-Visma.
“You can ask my wife and my relatives, I’ve been saying for days that Roglic’s 50-second lead was not enough to secure the final victory,” Merckx said. “I saw this Pogacar coming as big as a house. I had said that the only solution for him was to wait for the time trial, time was on his side.”
As it turned out, that’s just what Pogacar did. The 21-year-old entered Saturday’s TT with plenty of ground to make up on Roglic, but he did that and more in the end.
Pogacar’s advantage over Roglic in the final standings is a whopping 59 seconds.
“They should have understood that Pogacar was not going to attack them, it was impossible to trap them in the mountains,” Merckx said. “But they should have tried to blow it up long before to have enough breathing room. It’s a good lesson in cycling.”
Merckx had high praise for Pogacar, whose impressive ride at last year’s Vuelta a España was a sign of things to come.
“Since his third place in the Vuelta a España last year, I knew he was something great,” Merckx said. “You can’t do such numbers on a Grand Tour from three weeks to 20 years old without having the talent to go with it. Jumbo may have forgotten the images of the 2019 Vuelta. That too is a serious mistake.”
Pogacar won’t be flying under the radar now, but even as a marked man, he seems likely to contend at the Tour for years to come.
A year after Egan Bernal established himself as cycling’s biggest young star, Pogacar has now become the youngest Tour winner since the First World War. What’s more, the way Merckx sees it, Bernal needs to prove that he can bounce back from his 2020 campaign. For the Belgian cycling legend, it’s advantage Pogacar for now.
“I don’t know if Pogacar’s victory is good news for him, the bar is high now,” Merckx said. “On the other hand, Bernal was even worse this year. It is necessary to see him at work to know if he can compete with Pogacar in the years to come.”