Po­gacar be­comes youngest Tour cham­pion since 1904

Slove­nian beats com­pa­triot Roglic af­ter time-trial shock Five thou­sand fans al­lowed on Champs El­y­sees at fi­nale

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Cycling - By Tom Cary cy­cling correspond­ent in Paris mail­lot jaune

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

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