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On the Col du Granon, a climb last used in 1986 when Bernard Hinault lost the yellow jersey to Greg LeMond, the Slovenian was put to the sword by his principal rival and new race leader Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma). Two and a half years of Tour de France ended just like that.
When Pogačar’s downfall came it was swift and merciless with 5.4km to go on a pulsating Tour de France stage that saw all the grand tour contenders leave everything out on the road.
Until his demise Pogačar had weathered the storm from a barrage of attacks from Jumbo-Visma, and he even had time to joke with camera crews on the approach to the final climb.
However, Jumbo-Visma was relentless and the team completely sacrificed Primož Roglič with vicious attacks on the Col du Télégraphe and the Col du Galibier, before putting its numbers to good use on the run-in to the Col du Granon.
That said, at one point Vingegaard was completely isolated from his teammates, while Pogačar still had Rafal Majka for company. It briefly looked as though yellow was safe.
Then Vingegaard put in his strongest attack of the day. Pogačar, who had marked everything so far was absent from the Dane’s wheel, and when Vingegaard looked back and saw a gap he pressed on for both the stage and the race lead.
With no teammates left and rivals passing him on both sides a ragged Pogačar looked completely out of sorts. This was similar to Miguel Indurain cracking on Les Arcs in 1996 or Jan Ullrich two years later on the Galibier. Unexpected, uncharacteristic, and race-defining.
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Come the finish and Pogačar had seen his 39 second lead over Vingegaard turn into a 2:22 deficit with the UAE rider down to third and also behind a rejuvenated Romain Bardet.
In the space of just a few kilometers had lost almost three minutes, his yellow jersey and his air of superiority at the Tour.
“On the Galibier I still felt really good. I had a lot of attacks from Jumbo-Visma and they were very good today,” Pogačar said at the finish after pulling on the white jersey.
“Then on the last climb I just didn’t have a good final day. I was suffering until the end. It just wasn’t the best day. We will see tomorrow if I can do better. I want revenge and I want to race until the end. I will give it my all and don’t want to have any regrets.
“Jumbo played it really smart. For us it was really hard to control at the start with who goes in the break because we weren’t many guys anymore. We tried in the end but they played it well tactically. That was it. It’s not over yet. Today I lost three minutes, maybe tomorrow I will gain three minutes. We’ll see. I’ll keep fighting until the end. It’s far from finished, the Tour.”
Fighting talk from the defending champion, but there is little respite in the Tour de France and in less than 24 hours the race tackles another demanding stage and a summit finish on Alpe d’Huez.
This could get worse for Pogačar, not better.
His team has already been hit by three positive COVID-19 cases and two riders jettisoned from the race as a result. With Jumbo-Visma in the lead and with their tails up Pogačar will need to put in the most astonishing performance of his career so far — and there have already been a number of unreal moments — if he is to salvage this year’s Tour.