What it is with vintage Tour time trials resulting in just eight seconds separating the yellow jersey and second place?
Far from this being as epic as LeMond vs Fignon in Paris ’89, Wednesday’s 27.2km race of truth resulted in the same time gap between second and first on GC – but this time the yellow jersey held on despite the rip-roaring ride from the man who took the stage spoils.
Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) did more than deny Stefan Kung what seemed like a deserved maiden Tour stage win at Laval. Indeed, many now fear that he effectively put the Tour to bed just five days in. By failing to find the eight extra seconds that would have put him into yellow, it wasn’t exactly a case of history repeating itself from Pogacar – nine months on after his barnstorming TT up La Planche des Belles Filles.
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That, of course, came on the penultimate day of the 2020 Tour. The 22-year-old’s latest display of dominance hit our screens just five days into the defence of his crown, with many of his rivals still reeling from the crashes they sustained during four dramatic opening stages in Brittany. But fear not: at this stage last year, Pogacar was only seven seconds off the race summit. So perhaps the Slovenian tyro has regressed a little after all?
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One thing is certain, Wednesday’s TT had ended Julian Alaphilippe’s chances of donning the yellow jersey again this year, and any hope that Wout van Aert harboured of taking the maillot jaune for himself for the first time in his career. Both riders were in with a shout today, but the Belgian ended up 30 seconds down on Pogacar in fourth, while the Frenchman was over a minute back.
Now 48 seconds down on GC, Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) will go back into stage-hunter mode once he’s helped teammate Mark Cavendish in his bid to take a second victory at Châteauroux on Thursday.
Van Aert will now slip back into domestique mode – and perhaps not just for last year’s runner-up. Primoz Roglic bounced back from his nasty fall with a solid time that saw him rise 10 places to 10th. But after Jonas Vingegaard’s stellar third-place performance in the TT, the Danish debutant gives Jumbo-Visma a second option in the GC, trailing Van der Poel by 1:43, five seconds ahead of Roglic.
Vingegaard and Roglic were two of four riders who rose into the top 10 on Wednesday: Kazakhstan’s Alexey Lutsenko (Astana-PremierTech) is now fifth at 1:21 and Colombia’s Rigoberto Uran (EF Education-Nippo) is up seven to seventh at 1:29. A solid ride from Pierre Latour (Team TotelEnergies) saw him up to sixth and makes him France’s best bet for the GC now following David Gaudu’s slump to seventeenth.
Groupama-FDJ’s Gaudu was one of a cluster of names to drop out of the top 10 after struggling against the clock. Gaudu is 2:35 down and one place and 10 seconds ahead of Colombian veteran Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic), who avoided the spills and splits of Brittany, yet came unstuck in familiar circumstances when forced to don an aerodynamic skinsuit.
Dutchman Wilco Kelderman (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Spaniard Enric Mas (Movistar) also slumped to thirteenth and fourteenth after both shipping 1:49 to Pogacar – more time than they could expect to win or lose on one of the race’s three summit finishes.
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Ecuador’s Richard Carapaz conceded a similar amount of time to lose his third place on GC and tumble to ninth at 1:44. The 2019 Giro winner is still the best-placed Ineos Grenadier after Welsh teammate Geraint Thomas – two days after dislocating his shoulder – battled to limit his losses. While conceding 1:18 to Pogacar, Thomas managed to rise six places to twelfth. But a GC deficit of almost two minutes leaves Thomas, the 2018 champion, with a mountain to climb if he wants to reignite his bid for yellow.
As things stand, Tadej Pogacar is in a healthy position to become the youngest rider to win back-to-back Tours. But his day of glory was not without a minor setback. For by blasting to a fourth career stage win on the Tour, the Slovenian superstar almost managed to disqualify his teammate Brandon McNulty.
The American took a tumble when the course was wet from persistent drizzle earlier in the day. Both knees bloodied, McNulty finished in last place 6:55 down on the prodigious Pogacar and just 1:05 clear of the time cut. A gifted climber, a fit McNulty will be an asset to Pogacar once the race hits the mountains this weekend.
That was one blot on an otherwise spotless copybook for Pogacar and UAE Team Emirates on Wednesday. We have yet to hit the favoured hunting ground of the man in white, but at this point in the race it’s looking like it will take a minor miracle to dislodge the yellow jersey elect.
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