In a dramatic last-gasp turnaround Tadej Pogacar won the Tour de France on Saturday as the overnight leader Primoz Roglic suffered a mountainside meltdown during a thrilling individual time-trial on the last day of real racing.
It was a staggering end to a bizarre Tour and the penultimate stage duel between two compatriots of different generations will go down as one of 2020’s great sporting moments.
The 21-year-old Pogacar will now lead the peloton into Paris on Sunday wearing the overall leader’s yellow jersey and, barring a freak disaster, will climb onto the top step of the podium.
“I cried, I’m sure I’ll cry again,” said Roglic, who led the race 12 days before wilting at the final hurdle.
Staggeringly, the youngster Pogacar will also pull on the polka dot jersey as best climber on the Tour, and also the white one as best under-25s rider.
“I’m just a kid from Slovenia,” he said.
“When I started watching in 2009 or 2010 I was following Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck, watching television all day and then riding afterwards.”
“I could hear nothing on the final climb and I went for it with everything,” he said.
After the dust settled Pogacar said he had further targets.
“I’ll be going to the world championships at Imola,” he said ahead of the rescheduled event next weekend.
Often unlucky Australia’s veteran Richie Porte climbed to third overall here to make the Tour podium for the first time, while Spain’s Mikel Landa and Enric Mas rounded out the top five with strong finishes too.
“It was such a sweet moment,” Porte, 35, said.
“Everyone knows the journey I’ve been on to finally end up on the Tour podium after growing up in far away Australia.”
“The two Slovenians were on another planet to us, they threw bricks at each other, there was no holding back,” said the Trek rider.
Porte said he considered staying home as his wife was expecting a baby.
“She told me to go but didn’t want to see me at the back of the peloton.”
Ireland’s Sam Bennett looks set to win the sprinter’s green jersey, but must negotiate the eight lap dash that ends the Tour along Paris’ Champs Elysees on Sunday.
Here in the time-trial Pogacar pulverised the field with his stage-winning performance, and his team hugged and kissed him as they realised the 2020 Tour was theirs.
Roglic ‘bad day’
Roglic, 30, had led the Tour since stage nine and his dramatic meltdown on the final climb means even as loser he remains the big story.
“I had a bad day, he deserved his win. I’m disappointed but I can be proud of second place,” said Roglic. “I don’t have a clear mind, it is how it is,” he said.
“I struggled with everything, I just didnt have enough power out there.”
The defeated man was big enough to collect himself and congratulate the winner.
“He’ll be a great rider now for the next ten years,” he predicted.
The younger man also showed much empathy.
“I feel sorry for Primoz, I feel his pain, losing the yellow jersey on the last day. He’s a friend of mine,” Pogacar said with sincerity.
Pogacar also is set to become the youngest postwar champion as a generational shift takes hold of cycling with a string of young stage winners.
In a key moment the UAE rider changed bikes, which took 12 seconds, after the 30km rolling section to tackle the 6km eight per cent climb at top speed.
Roglic only decided to change bikes once he began to crumble fast, but it became painfully clear he was in for a horrible finale.
Dressed in yellow for the first time after covering the 36km in 55 minutes, 55seconds, Pogacar said he could hardly think let alone answer questions.
The rookie’s performance will go down as one of the all-time-great turnarounds.