Pogačar: ‘I exploded a little bit’
The stage 11 results sheet may not have shown it, but for the first time so far at this Tour de France on Wednesday, race leader Tadej Pogačar seemed to show a sign of weakness near the summit of Mont Ventoux.
Shortly after the last remaining support rider for the Ineos Grenadiers, Michal Kwiatkowski peeled off the front of the yellow jersey group on the day’s second ascent of the climb, Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) put in a big attack. Pogačar was the only rider in the small selection that could follow the move, which saw both Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) and Rigoberto Urán (EF Education-Nippo) distanced.
After holding Vingegaard’s wheel for a few moments, however, Pogačar lost touch, and for at least the next few minutes, it was the the 24-year-old Dane and not the 22-year-old Slovenian who appeared to be the strongest climber in the race.
“It was a hard pace on the climb and in the end, Vingegaard attacked and I couldn’t follow all the way up,” Pogačar said afterward.
Vingegaard proceeded to open up a gap of half a minute going over the top of the climb, before Pogačar linked back up with Carapaz and Urán on the descent and the trio caught back up to Vingegaard before the line.
With all four riders finishing on the same time, Vingegaard’s big dig did not ultimately get him any closer to Pogačar in the general classification. Indeed, Pogačar actually extended his GC lead quite dramatically on the day, considering the precipitous drop of Ben O’Connor (AG2R Citroën) from second overall at 2:01 back to fifth overall at 5:58 back.
It also must be noted that Vingegaard was sitting more than five and a half minutes behind Pogačar on the overall standings when he put in his attack, making it less than imperative, to say the least, for Pogačar to follow a move so close to the top of the climb.
Just the same, Pogačar had appeared practically invincible in both the high mountains and against the clock at this Tour, and he did at least appear interested in following Vingegaard’s move right up until he couldn’t anymore. What’s more, Vingegaard might have been able to hold some of that gap through to the finish had Urán and Carapaz not joined forces with Pogačar on the descent to reel Vingegaard back in.
“It was just a little bit too much and I exploded a little bit, but managed to save it in the end with Richard Carapaz and Urán,” Pogacar said. “We worked together well and we saved the day for everyone.”
Just past the halfway point of the 2021 Tour, Pogačar has a GC lead of 5:18 to second-placed Urán with Vingegaard in third at 5:32 back and Carapaz in fourth, one second behind Vingegaard. Picking up more than five minutes will be a tall order for any of Pogačar’s rivals, but Vingegaard’s brief stint out in front of the yellow jersey will provide a glimmer of hope to the rest of the GC contenders.
Pogačar tipped his cap to the first-time Tour rider after the stage.
“I’m really not surprised,” Pogačar said. “I’ve seen already at the beginning of this year that he might be one of the strongest climbers in this era, for sure. I think he has a really bright future. He’s a super strong rider.”