After dominating the first mountain test of the 2021 Tour de France on the Alpine stage 8, UAE Team Emirates leader Tadej Pogačar conceded that he might be his own biggest rival going forward, such is his mammoth advantage over his general classification rivals.
He stormed into the yellow jersey after attacking 32 kilometres out, detonating the GC group and putting over three minutes into rivals such as Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), Rigoberto Urán (EF Education-Nippo), and Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma).
The 22-year-old, who now enjoys a gap of five minutes-plus on almost all of his serious GC rivals, laughed when he was asked if he would be his own biggest rival over the remaining 13 days of the Tour.
“Yes, actually, yes,” he said after the stage before switching to a more sensible outlook. “We will see, day-by-day. Now we are in yellow and we are prepared to defend because we showed that we are a super-strong team.”
Questions had been raised about the strength of UAE Team Emirates on Friday’s stage 7 through the hills of the Morvan, when only Rafał Majka finished alongside the Slovenian on the race’s longest day.
UAE answered any doubts emphatically on stage 8 though, with Rui Costa, Brandon McNulty and Davide Formolo all putting in long stints of work as the squad matched rivals Jumbo-Visma and Ineos Grenadiers for numbers at the head of the race.
“Once I saw that, the climbs were really hard, that everyone was suffering; Formolo and Brandon and Rui, they did such an amazing job, and yeah, I took off and tried to pace myself to the finish line. Yeah, I’m pretty happy,” Pogačar said.
“In the morning, I said that we will see how it goes today, and then at the start it was a super-hard day with riders everywhere. In that moment, there was in a breakaway and then not, and it was super hard for everyone. In the end, I felt good in this weather – felt great – and I decided before the last three climbs. I said to my teammates, ‘let’s try to win the race’ and we did it.”
Pogačar said that he was a bit surprised to gain so much time today in the face of little resistance following his attack. Carapaz was the only man able to follow when he jumped on the Col de Romme – the penultimate climb of the day before the Colombière – but after the Ecuadorian was dispatched with, it was a case of flying past the remnants of the break, building his advantage more and more as he progressed.
He noted that, after Carapaz’s ultimately unsuccessful attack on stage 7, he thought there would be more challenges put to him by his rivals.
“I suspected that after yesterday, we did a lot of work, and they attacked us and they thought that they could break us, as a team. I guess in the end they were affected by yesterday and because of the cold and rain.”