Pogacar becomes youngest Tour champion since 1904
Slovenian beats compatriot Roglic after time-trial shock Five thousand fans allowed on Champs Elysees at finale
One of the most extraordinary Tour de France editions in the history of cycling’s greatest race ended last night with its youngest champion in over a century almost completely speechless. “I cannot describe how I’m feeling right now,” Tadej Pogacar said from somewhere beneath his face mask. “It was a really amazing three weeks on the road.”
It certainly was. Pogacar could be forgiven for being tongue-tied. The Slovenian, who only turns 22 today, was speaking to an audience of millions, having catapulted himself into the global sporting consciousness from nowhere in the space of 24 hours with one of the most astonishing rides ever seen in the sport. Pogacar’s individual time trial to the summit of La Planche des Belles Filles on Saturday will go down in cycling’s annals.
Riding second from last on the road, he managed to turn a 57-second deficit to his compatriot and pre-race favourite, Primoz Roglic, into a 59-second advantage by the finish.
Roglic, the former ski jumper who had worn the for 11 days and had cycling’s newest superteam, Jumbo-Visma, protecting him, was considered the favourite for the stage and the race. No one counted on the 21 year-old from Komenda, a tiny village in the Upper Carniola region of Slovenia with a population of less than one thousand. It was one of the great sporting muggings.
Pogacar has not come completely out of nowhere. He finished on the podium at last year’s Vuelta a Espana, winning three stages in the process. But this is the Tour de France. And his team UAE Team Emirates were nowhere near a match for JumboVisma. “It is incredible,” Pogacar conceded. “I have to thank everyone involved in all the preparations. All the hard work in the team, my family, everyone who supported me.”
As he was speaking, Roglic’s young child, who he was holding on the podium, briefly cried out. There was no crying from Roglic yesterday. The 30-year-old admitted he had shed tears in the wake of his collapse on La Planche des Belles Filles.
But his sportsmanship, which he had demonstrated when he interrupted Pogacar’s television interview on Saturday to congratulate him, and again in the press conference later, were once more in full evidence. Riding into Paris arm-inarm yesterday for the final procession into Paris, both men smiling and laughing, it was clear their friendship had survived their enthralling battle. It was that sort of Tour. Perhaps the threat of Covid-19 was a reminder that we should all be thankful to be here racing at all.
Paris looked stunning as ever, bathed in the red glow of a mid-September evening, the Arc de Triomphe lit up behind the podium.
The fact that it was already getting dark as the ceremony was taking place was another reminder that this Tour was taking place two months later than usual due to Covid-19. There were others. Only 5,000 fans were allowed on the Champs Elysees. It was also considerably cooler than normal. That the race reached the French capital at all was impressive; testament not only to protocols in place but to the bloody-mindedness of organisers ASO and the French government.
There were times when it felt risky. Beginning in Nice three weeks ago, a city in one of France’s “red zones” with particularly high infection rates, there was the ever-present threat of the two-strikes-and-you’reout rule, with teams to be sent home if two or more of their 30-strong staff tested positive in a seven-day period.
But it always felt as if there was a determination to see it through.
Christian Prudhomme, the race director, had boasted earlier this year that only the two World Wars had stopped Le Tour. That was beginning to look like the worst sort of hubris when he tested positive on the first rest day. But not one of the 176 riders who started the race tested positive, and only a handful of team members.
And so Pogacar becomes the sport’s newest poster boy. The youngest rider to win the Tour since Henri Cornet, who won in 1904 just shy of his 20th birthday. The first Slovenian to win the Tour. And the first since Eddy Merckx in 1969 to win
Kings of the road: Primoz Roglic (left) and his son Levom, Tour champion Tadej Pogacar (centre) and third-placed Richie Porte of Australia three jerseys: the yellow jersey, the King of the Mountains jersey for best climber, and white jersey of the best young rider, in the same edition.
Pogacar’s life is going to change rapidly from now on. He told us on Saturday that he was “just a kid from Slovenia with two sisters, one brother”. The UAE Emirates rider’s image was being projected onto the Burj Khalifa last night.
There is clearly a fun young man beneath the mask. A video of Pogacar doing a Covid lockdown rap about washing your hands briefly went viral during this race. There is also a nice story about Pogacar from when he was very young. The former professional Andrej Hauptman, who is now Slovenia’s national coach, turned up at a race and saw a group of teenagers with a much younger kid off the back. Hauptman told the organisers they ought to do something to help the child, until they pointed out it was the “little guy” who was about to lap the older kids.
No one counted on the 21-yearold from Komenda. It was one of the great sporting muggings