‘Tadej is a ticking time bomb’ - Tadej Pogačar is running away with the Tour de France

The first opportunity in the mountains and UAE Team Emirates grabbed it with both hands

The white and red jerseys amassed to the front of the peloton like clockwork. There was a breakaway up the road, but their days were numbered as soon as it happened. The Tour de France was about to go up the Col du Galibier, and Tadej Pogačar wanted to win. On days like this, there is very little hope for the rest of the peloton.

We saw it in the Giro d’Italia only a few weeks ago that the UAE Team Emirates rider is in imperious form this season – he spent his time in the Italian mountains making swashbuckling attacks and dealing brutal blows to his rivals, eventually winning the race by almost 10 minutes. The doubt was whether he would be able to do it again in July when the biggest race of the world takes place and the fight for the coveted yellow jersey begins. 

Today, Pogačar answered any questions over his form or fatigue. His celebration as he crossed the line showed it all as he pounded his chest like a gorilla: Pogačar is powerful and strong. At the moment, he looks untouchable. His rivals crossed the finish line in stages of exhaustion, having given everything to limit their losses to the Slovenian rider, yet the man himself seemed composed and almost fresh. Pogačar is living up to expectations.

“It’s a time bomb that is ticking, you just wait and see when he goes. It was clear he was going to go in the last kilometre as it was a bit of a tailwind and it was also the steepest kilometre,” Remco Evenepoel of Soudal-Quick-Step explained a few moments after crossing the finish line today in third place. 

“Especially with bonus seconds on top it was a very smart attack. One moment I was thinking of going myself but then it was better to wait for Tadej and not explode. His attacks are so explosive it’s difficult to get on the wheel. You have to get on as fast as possible otherwise he’s gone, as we saw.”

The plan, according to UAE Team Emirates, was always to use stage four as a springboard for an attack that would set out the hierarchy in this year’s GC battle. It's still early in the race for a strategy like this, but that says a lot for Pogačar and his teammate’s confidence in their ability. Today was proof that Pogačar deserves every bit of support from his team.

“He told the guys he wanted to go full gas, we went full gas and he finished it off so it was a good day for the team,” the 25-year-old’s teammate, Adam Yates commented after the stage. “If there’s anyone who can do the Giro-Tour double it’s him. He showed today how you do it.”

Pogačar made his move with 800 metres to go on the Galibier, after his team had worked for the entirety of the 23 kilometre climb. There were some questions over why the Slovenian rider didn’t attack earlier to further capitalise on the work of his teammates and secure an even bigger buffer ahead of his rivals, but the whole thing was carefully orchestrated.

“We left it a little bit later than we planned because of the headwind. We had to be conservative but it was the plan to do it like this really,” Pavel Sivakov explained after the race after doing some important work for Pogačar early on in the climb. “But even with the headwind we managed to hurt everyone.”

For most riders apart from Pogačar, ‘hurt’ was certainly the operative word over the top of the Galibier. Red, sweaty faces and bodies eventually crawled across the finish line after the descent into Valloire – if the UAE Team Emirates rider needs any more confidence ahead of the stage, the exhausted state of those riders he beat will add to it.

“This was the plan and we executed it well. I’m super happy, it was like a dream stage, I finished it off so well, it was incredible,” Pogačar said in his post-race press conference. “I wanted to hit hard today, I know this stage well and I’ve been training here for a lot of weeks already. It felt like a home stage and it was really nice to race here, with a bonus second on the top as well. I had confidence at the start, good legs and I had to try.”

There are now 45 seconds separating Pogačar and Evenepoel who sits in second place. After one mountain stage, the gap is significant when considering the challenges that are still to come in this race. On the other hand, there are still 17 days remaining for Pogačar and his teammates to defend the yellow jersey. The Tour de France is far from over, but it will continue to be a waiting game for Pogačar’s rivals as they anticipate when the next blow is going to come. But the Slovenian rider has done this before. He knows about the brutality of the Tour de France. Today was an impressive start, but yellow is far from won.

“Today is good news, I can be happy in this place and I’m super happy with the shape and how I feel on the bike,” Pogačar said. “Let's continue day by day.”

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