Tadej Pogacar rules the Tour
With the 2021 Tour de France practically sealed, even in terms of the podium, came one of the queen stages. The 18th stage, along with yesterday's, was undoubtedly a deadly duo. On this occasion, 130 kilometres with about 75 kilometres of false flat and two great mountain passes: Tourmalet and Luz Ardiden for the summit finish. And everything happened as it did yesterday: a triple breakaway in the last kilometre with a good Enric Mas and victory for Pogacar with a lightning attack on the last slope.
First attacks and the Tourmalet as a filter
Tourmalet is undoubtedly a mythical classic. 17 kilometres at an average of 7.3%. Ardiden is not far behind: a little shorter, 13.3 kilometres, but at a little more, at 7.4% average. If anyone had anything in store (we doubt it, it was a Tour de France 2021 at a brutal pace), it was the day, with both special category passes.
For any normal human being, this scenario would have made them lethargic, their legs would have stiffened and they would have been afraid of the suffering that was to come. But not here, here Bennett attacked in the first minute, and then Barthe, Poels or Quintana. In five minutes we had seen up to 4 attacks. Among them, the one by Bennett, Mohoric and Jensen was the first one to be established, with more than half a minute over the peloton.
Behind, Alaphilippe also tried on his own and, after half an hour alone, he was joined by Périchon. Because behind, they were not letting up on their efforts and attacks.
Alaphilippe and Périchon took the lead of the race and formed a quintet with not much of a future given what was left and understanding that 40 seconds was not going to be enough. Due to a lack of strength or a lack of perspective, the breakaway group began to fade. The first was Périchon. The second was Sean Bennett, who rejoined the peloton in a short time.
In the middle of the Tourmalet, one name stood out: Rigoberto Urán. If yesterday he lost part of the podium, today he was slacking at the very first moment, even with the Luz Ardiden ahead of him. Bad feelings for the Education First rider.
All of this, especially because of the pace that Ineos set on the Tourmalet. We don't know if their intention was to empty Jumbo in the face of a final attack by Carapaz or simply to regain the feeling of the leading team, which they are not at the moment. The pace was slowing down: Rolland, Formolo and Rui Costa dropped. The stage, as we say, was very hard.
The leading group was losing and gaining members. Gaudu and Latour were the strongest in the last two kilometres, but behind, an attack by Woods showed the Canadian's great form. The pull further filtered the peloton, which was down to just over 20 riders. There were still 35 kilometres to go and the Ardiden was waiting patiently. Jumbo decided not to wait: if going up was difficult, why not try going down. Van Aert pulled 50 metres from the top of the Tourmalet and tried to take Vingegaard with him. We all know how the Belgian descends, so he tried to pull his team-mate. Pogacar was waiting.
Luz Ardiden as judge
Gaudu took off alone and descended like a motorbike. Behind, a small group 40 seconds behind with Pouls and Omar Fraile. The peloton, more than 1 minute behind. The Frenchman was looking for his stage victory by gritting his teeth.
With 15 kilometres to go, the situation was clear: Gaudu only had 18 seconds and the peloton was increasing the pace. The question was how long it would take to catch him and the certainty was that Luz Ardiden would once again look like yesterday's finish: the favourites were saving their last card to surprise. If not for the overall, that too, then especially with the stage victory in mind. Uran had already lost more than a minute and a half, so the fight was between Carapaz and Vingegaard for the overall.
Kwiatkowski moved to the front of the peloton and it was noticeable. The pace changed and Gaudu slowed down. All together, for the final part. The pull dropped Nairo Quintana among others. With 5 kilometres to the summit of Ardiden, Gaudu dropped out of the peloton and Majka was back to force the pace. Peio Bilbao, Alejandro Valverde and Enric Mas held the challenge with the group of favourites.
With 3 kilometres to go, Pogacar said it was enough again. This was a deja vu of yesterday's experience. He pulled and took four riders, Kuss, Vingegaard, Carapaz and Enric Mas. Kilometre and a half and all open. Dan Martin pushed behind to try to subtract those 15 seconds from the leading group and fight for the stage, but Kuss kept increasing and increasing the pace. Last kilometre and everything was open. Mas seemed to suffer but attempted to try and Kuss dropped off the pace. The four were watching each other out of the corner of their eyes. But with 500m to go, Pogacar attacked, went away and won alone. He is the strongest, full stop. Vingegaard and Carapaz came within a second and a great Enric Mas, who tried it in the last kilometre, came in fourth just a few seconds behind. Congratulations to the Mallorcan who has gone from less to more in this Tour de France 2021. But that said: victory for Pogacar, his third, and the 2021 Tour de France is decided.
- Pogacar, T. - UAE | 5:03:31
- Vingegaard, J. - Jumbo Visma | +2
- Carapaz, R. - Ineos Grenadiers | +2
- Mas, E. - Movistar | +13
- Pogacar, T. - UAE | 75:00:02
- Vingegaard, J. - Jumbo Visma | +5:45
- Carapaz, R. - Ineos Grenadiers | +5:51