Tadej Pogacar, the defending champion, blew away his rivals on stage eight to assert himself as the clear favourite for final victory in Paris.
In a throwback to the grand exploits of Tour’s past, the Slovenian attacked en route from Oyonnax to Le Grand-Bornand and dropped his remaining general classification rivals more than 30km from the finish.
He said he had sought “payback” and to profit from the Ineos Grenadiers team’s clear vulnerability. “Attacking is the best defence, no?” the 22-year-old said after claiming the yellow jersey on the first mountain stage. “Today was just attacking and it went well, really well.
“It was such a tough race already, a lot of attacks. Then on the first of the three last climbs I could see that Ineos didn’t feel the best. I saw how they talked to each other and I said: ‘Let’s try to keep the pressure on them.’”
On another torrid stage of pouring rain and numerous crashes, several of the pre-race favourites, including Primoz Roglic of Jumbo-Visma and the 2018 winner, Geraint Thomas of Ineos Grenadiers, were definitively distanced.
Pogacar, the UAE Team Emirates leader, proved as uncontainable as he had in last year’s final time trial, to La Planche des Belles Filles.
The Belgian Dylan Teuns took the stage win for Bahrain Victorious, with Pogacar fourth. The Slovenian explained that, on the penultimate climb, the Col de Romme, he had decided to break it, before suggesting his searing attack was revenge on the rivals who had put his team to the sword on Friday’s longest stage of the race, from Vierzon to Le Creusot.
“Maybe it was payback,” he said. “After yesterday’s stage, [when] everyone was racing against us, I went all in today to make a gap. They try to take time off me. Today I had the opportunity to gain time [on them].” He did so in spectacular style.
After one week of racing, he leads his most likely rivals for the Paris podium by a country mile. The Colombian Rigoberto Urán, second overall to Chris Froome in 2017 and the leader of EF Nippo, is his closest rival with a Grand Tour pedigree, but is 4min 46sec in arrears.
Only three other established Grand Tour contenders – Richard Carapaz of Ineos Grenadiers, Bora Hansgrohe’s Wilco Kelderman, and Enric Mas of Movistar – are in the top 10. They are more than five minutes behind Pogacar.
Asked if the race was already over, Pogacar laughed. “I did not kill the Tour,” he said. “It’s still a long way to go. Today I had a gap, maybe tomorrow someone else will do that. We’ll defend the place we have now, 100%. We are confident and motivated but I did not kill the Tour, sorry.”
Pogacar seized the day on the steepest sections of the Col de Romme, dropping his most likely threat for final victory, Carapaz, and setting off in pursuit of a lone attacker, Michael Woods, on the last climb, the first-category Col de la Colombière.
His climbings deeds dwarfed the efforts of his rivals. Pogacar rode the Romme climb almost a kilometre an hour faster than Carapaz, the 2019 Giro d’Italia winner. Even a promotional sausage truck, wedged against a rock wall on the Romme climb but thankfully moved before the riders arrived, would have been unlikely to slow his extraordinary progress.
On the final climb of the Colombière, the 22-year-old increased his lead on Carapaz and closed on Woods and Teuns, who had been three minutes ahead at the foot of the final obstacle.
By the midway point on the Colombière he had made up his near four-minute deficit to the overnight race leader, Mathieu van der Poel of Alpecin-Fenix, and moved into the overall race leadership.
Woods was soon caught and only Teuns could resist the whirlwind, though Woods did recover to third, with Ion Izagirre second.
“I don’t know if every mountain stage I’ll be attacking,” Pogacar said, “but probably not, because this first week was really demanding and tomorrow we already have a super hard stage. We will try our best to defend and to ride defensive from now on.”
For his shattered rivals, it could be a very long two weeks.