Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) admitted he was simply too far back when Jumbo-Visma and then Wout van Aert lit up stage 4 of the Tour de France on the final climb before the finish in Calais.
The two-time Tour de France winner is usually at the sharp end of aggressive racing and the rider making the attacks. This time he had to ride on the defensive and could only hope that overall rivals Jonas Vingegaard and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and Adam Yates and Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) did not stay away and gain time.
Fortunately for Pogačar, Van Aert’s solo attack over the top of the final climb with 10km to go disrupted his own team’s chances of gaining time.
With Van Aert away solo, the leading riders came back together and finished eight seconds down. Pogačar finished safely in the 113-rider chase group and quickly dive onto the podium for the best young rider white jersey ceremony.
He conceded that he had been caught out and fortunate that his rivals did get away. He was quick to highlight the contrast in Van Aert’s and Jumbo-Visma’s tactics.
“I was too far behind to follow, so I just tried to go as fast as possible to the top, to see what the situation was,” he said to several media, including Cyclingnewsin the podium mixed zone.
“In the end, it was OK because Wout van Aert dropped even his own teammates. When I saw that, I was more calm and I didn’t stress.
“It was the first big, deep dig on the climb. I felt good, the legs are OK and the lungs are clearly working. I was just a little bit out of position before the climb and had come from far behind but it shows I ‘m in good shape.”
Pogačar recognized Jumbo-Visma’s strengths but tried to see that in good light, perhaps keen for his rivals to take control of the Tour de France before he plays his own cards in the decisive mountain stages and the final time trial.
“They’re really strong, especially Van Aert, he just smashed everyone today, not even Vingegaard and Roglič could follow him. That’s fine, that’s a good sign,” he said.
Pogačar will go head to head with Jumbo-Visma on Wednesday’s cobbled stage to Wallers. Rather than go on the attack, he seemed to again prefer a defensive tactic.
“Tomorrow I just need to survive,” he said of the cobbled stage. “It’ll be a big stage and I hope nothing serious, like crashes or something happens.
“I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a really hard stage for everyone and a great show on television.”