Tour de France 2021 - Enric Mas spoils party as generous Tadej Pogacar tries to gift Jonas Vingegaard a win
The top two riders of the Tour de France had clearly not forgotten Richard Carapaz’s antics from the previous stage. But although Tadej Pogacar seemingly did his best to let Jonas Vingegaard take a maiden Tour stage win, a late attack from Enric Mas forced the man in yellow to take the bait and secure an incredible hat-trick at Luz Ardiden.
Stage 18 Highlights - Tadej Pogacar gives another reminder of his class
It was a stage so many wanted – needed – to win. Most notably we saw Team TotalEnergies (who had Pierre Latour go over the Tourmalet in pole position), we had Groupama-FDJ up there with David Gaudu (who led the race until the final 10km), we saw Ineos Grenadiers (who pulled everyone up the Tourmalet and then whittled down the pack on the final climb), and we had Movistar in the mix (their leader Enric Mas sniffing out an opportunity in the last kilometre).
All these teams needed something to salvage Tours of relative torpidity. But they all ended up empty handed. Latour and Gaudu never had enough of a gap to give their French teams any real hope; Ineos did everything right until it came to pulling the trigger, while Mas – poor Mas – he was just a plaything, a prop, a perpetually grinning blue rag doll, to be thrown around and toyed with by the top three on GC in the second part of their theatrical summit skirmishes.
Fresh from his appearance at the Oscars on Wednesday, Richard Carapaz was again cast in the role of party-pooping villain who ended up with egg on his face. His teammates – most notably, Dylan van Baarle, Tao Geoghegan Hart and Jonathan Castroviejo – had done a sterling job in paving the way.
And after a first searching attack from Movistar’s Mas with one kilometre remaining at Luz Ardiden, it was Carapaz who emerged in the wheel of Pogacar when the yellow jersey nudged his elbow and urged the Ecuadorian through.
Twenty-four hours earlier, Carapaz had refused to do any work through gritted teeth and a grimace bigger than Thomas Voeckler’s tongue was long. He had bluffed his way up the Col du Portet before trying to do the dirty on his podium rivals – only to be found out en route to finishing third.
'An absolute phenomenon!' - Dominant Pogacar takes third stage win to put icing on cake
This time round, once Pogacar’s flick was ignored and the yellow jersey subsequently took a corner deliberately wide, Carapaz had no real choice but to come to the fore.
“Getting Carapaz to come to the front here, I think there’s only going to be one winner – Vingegaard,” Sean Kelly said with authority in the Eurosport commentary box. It certainly looked like Pogacar’s aim all along had been to gift a win for his Danish colleague – a sign of solidarity, perhaps, after the behaviour of Carapaz in Stage 17.
The 2019 Giro d’Italia winner did lead from the front – but for all of 20 metres before ostentatiously peeling off at the next corner. He was clearly not keen on being the butt of any joke and in no mood to lead out a rival to victory to complete his comeuppance from Stage 17.
As the top three on GC then started playing games, almost coming to a standstill with a collective easing up of pace, Mas, no doubt bemused by the whole spectacle, spotted his chance and dug in. Suddenly, the alarm bells sounded in Carapaz’s head and it was he who led the chase. But with the Ineos rider failing to close the gap, Pogacar took matters into his own hands and zipped clear.
Tadej Pogacar a encore maté Vingegaard et Carapaz pour gagner la 18e étape.
Image credit: Getty Images
And that was that, really. Once he started to ride, Mas had no chance. Neither did the others. A third win saw Pogacar match his haul from his debut Vuelta in 2019 and his debut Tour last year. This year he could go one better given he'll be among the favourites for the time trial on Saturday.
BikeExchange put Chris Juul-Jensen in the early break, recalled him when Luke Durbridge had split the pack for Michael Matthews ahead of the intermediate sprint, then sent the Dane back up the road after Mark Cavendish beat the Australian by a couple of places to extend his lead in the green jersey competition. It was a tactical disasterclass.
For Bahrain Victorious it was not as obviously bad. After all, they have already taken back-to-back stage wins through Matej Mohoric and Dylan Teuns earlier in the race. Mohoric was again in the early break, despite Bahrain leading the chase behind as the race approached the Tourmalet. Here, Wout Poels did manage to take some extra points to extend his lead in the polka dot jersey standings.
Tadej Pogacar (UAE-Team Emirates) avec le maillot à pois sur les épaules
Image credit: Getty Images
But Pogacar’s victory at Luz Ardiden made it all immaterial. The Dutchman needed the Slovenian to avoid finishing in the top three if he wanted to keep hold of the jersey. Had Mas not attacked when he did, perhaps that could have played out if Vingegaard, Carapaz and the Spaniard combined to finish ahead. No chance.
Best rider, best young rider, and now best climber for a second successive year – Pogacar’s only 22 but he’s already showed that he is one of the most ruthless riders in the peloton. He doesn’t give gifts often and he’s after as many wins – and jerseys – as possible. He has three in each department now for the second year on the bounce. And while he won’t deny Mark Cavendish the green jersey in Paris, if he continues his winning rate it won’t be long before he closes in on 35 stages himself…