Yates fades away as Roglic finally seizes yellow jersey
After nine days of thrills, spills and Covid-19 controls, the race for the maillot jaune at the 107th Tour de France is really starting to take shape now. Unfortunately, it looks as if that race will no longer include Adam Yates. A riveting ninth stage through a wet and misty Pyrenees ended yesterday with the Briton distanced, dropping almost a minute to the leaders, and a pair of Slovenians in the ascendancy.
Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates), a 21-year-old rising star of the sport, was the day’s winner – the youngest winner, in fact, of a Tour stage since Lance Armstrong in 1993. Pogacar outsprinted a select group of riders into Laruns, clawing back yet more of the 80-odd seconds he lost in the crosswinds on Friday. He now lies seventh overall, 44 seconds behind the yellow jersey, and will be one to watch closely in the Alps next week.
After Egan Bernal became the Tour’s youngest winner in 110 years last year at the age of 22, some
believe Pogacar could rewrite history again just 12 months later.
Bernal will do his best to stop him. Ineos’s Colombian climber had a much better time yesterday on a special day for the British team, starting as it did in Pau, the home town of Nico Portal, their muchloved sporting director who died suddenly of a heart attack earlier this year.
Bernal attacked repeatedly on the final climb of the day, the vertiginous Col de Marie Blanque, to suggest his form is building at just the right time. And he has his favourite, long Alpine climbs still to come.
But it was Primoz Roglic (JumboVisma), Pogacar’s elder compatriot and the big pre-race favourite, who is sitting pretty in yellow as the race heads to Charente-Maritime, on France’s west coast, for today’s first rest day.
Roglic had looked slightly tentative on the first stage in the Pyrenees on Saturday, deciding against going with Pogacar when the younger rider escaped over the top of the Peyresourde and almost certainly missing the chance to move into yellow as a result. He did not make the same mistake yesterday.
Sunweb’s Swiss rider, Marc Hirschi, had escaped early on and ridden solo for over 80kilometres in an attempt to pull off what would have been an incredible victory. He almost managed it, too.
But when Roglic, Pogacar, Bernal and Mikel Landa (Bahrain-McLaren) put on the afterburners on the Col de Marie Blanque, dropping Yates and a host of other general classification contenders in the process, a lead that once stood at more than four minutes quickly came down. Roglic’s group caught Hirschi with 1.5km of the run-in remaining, with Pogacar just outsprinting his fellow Slovenian for the win.
Yates, who had fought back brilliantly on Saturday after being dropped on the Peyresourde, came home 54 seconds later in the third tranche of race favourites.
After four days in yellow, the 28-year-old was justifiably proud, as well as exhausted. He admitted that he might now look to lose time on purpose to be allowed more leeway to go for stage wins in the third week.
“It was a big honour riding in yellow,” he said. “It was fun while it lasted. I did everything I could.
“I said from the very beginning, even before the Tour started, that I wasn’t at 100 per cent [due to illness]. But I think we did well. We hung on for as long as we could. And yeah, there are a couple of guys going better than me. I think we can be proud.”
Asked whether he might sit up tomorrow on stage 10 from Ile d’Oleron to Ile de Re – assuming the race is still going ahead after today’s Covid-19 tests – Yates conceded he might. “We’ll have to look at it,” he said. “The next couple of days are flat, it might be pretty easy to lose some time, but I think I’m going to look forward to the rest day first before we start thinking about next week.”