Bearing his teeth and grimacing as if he were about to explode, Richard Carapaz dug deep to respond to a series of attacks by Tadej Pogacar inside the final eight kilometres of the Col du Portet. As the yellow jersey traded pulls with Jonas Vingegaard, the young Danish debutant in white, it was all Carapaz could do to suck up the pain and keep pedalling to keep his podium dreams alive.
With each flick of the elbow by Jumbo-Visma’s Vingegaard, Carapaz looked down, discomfort etched across his face, as he let Pogacar go through and take up the relay. It was surely a matter of when, not if, the Ecuadorian livewire was going to short-circuit and blow a fuse. There was no way that we were going to witness the 28-year-old notching a maiden Tour stage win on the cloudy summit of the Portet – not when he was being so comprehensively schooled by his younger rivals.
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It was a total outclassing - and in many ways. For as the final climb progressed and Carapaz successfully managed to keep up with each acceleration – despite a facial expression suggesting he couldn’t keep up with child on a balance bike, let alone the top two riders of this Tour – the suspicion grew that the Ineos Grenadiers rider could well be bluffing.
With Carapaz displaying more sandbagging than London during the Blitz, Pogacar and Vingegaard exchanging a few words as they continued tapping out the tempo to keep David Gaudu and a chase group that included Rigoberto Uran at bay.
Pogacar later admitted that “only me and Jonas worked together” on the final climb. The pair certainly shared a light-bulb moment when they exchanged a few words on the front while Carapaz perfected his Oscar performance behind with all the hamminess of an extra overegging the crème brulée while being blown up in, say, a volcano in one of the Bond showdowns of the later Sean Connery era.
Asked about what he and Vingegaard had said, the Slovenian said: "No secrets, it was nothing much. He said to me he thought Carapaz is bluffing, and I knew it also. It was nothing unusual, this is the tactic in cycling. Then he tried to attack."

‘Nothing unusual’ – Pogacar ‘knew’ Carapaz was bluffing

Indeed, he did. Carapaz the cartoon villain made his move with 1.5km remaining and it was nothing short of textbook pantomime: channelling his inner Ciro Immobile, Carapaz came back from the dead to launch a blistering attack ahead of the tunnel – an acceleration which only Pogacar could match.
"I had to really drive to catch him and just to hold his wheel, it was super hard," Pogacar later said of the move, which saw Vingegaard drop back and seemingly out of contention.
But then the tables turned – and they did so quite deliciously. With Carapaz now driving the pace in the hunt of a stage win and the second place on the podium, Pogacar had the luxury of sitting back and riding in the grimacing Grenadier’s wheel. At one point, it even looked like the man in yellow was smiling. Because we all knew exactly what was coming: as Vingegaard slowly clawed his way back, it became clear that the Slovenian was going to put the icing on the cake by denying Carapaz the victory he’d sought by hook or by crook.
And so it played out: just as Vingegaard returned to the leaders, Pogacar kicked and went clear on the final ramp – taking a first ever win in yellow (his second of this Tour and fifth from 38 Tour stages to date) while the Dane had the sweet consolation prize of coming past Carapaz to take second place and the extra bonus seconds.

Richard Carapaz grimaces behind Tadej Pogacar and Jonas Vingegaard on the Col du Portet in Stage 17 of the Tour de France 2021

Image credit: Getty Images

After a deciding climb where the Eagle of Ecuador rode more like a vulture, Carapaz getting beaten to the line by Vingegaard was for many a big karmic slap in the face. He rose to third place above Uran on GC, but is now four seconds - not the single digit - down on the Dane.
Of course, this is a race and it’s the Tour de France; there are no rules dictating how riders should share out pacing and pulling duties, especially when the yellow jersey (at least, theoretically) is at stake. While Carapaz can easily be portrayed as the baddie in this sideshow, he was also canny and quite astute – making the most of the cards he was dealt after his Ineos Grenadiers team folded once again.
And in a race where any ostensible battle for yellow disappeared as early as Stage 8, such flourishes of skulduggery and opportunistic quick-thinking are a welcome distraction for the viewers deprived of the epic derring-do of what was a glorious opening week.
Carapaz's antics will certainly make Thursday’s final summit finish at Luz Ardiden all the more juicy – especially if the poker playing Ecuadorian and his Ineos team come to the fore and try to salvage something from what has been, by their usual high standards of performance, a Tour of amateur dramatics.
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