FRANCE: There is only one big question left to be answered at the Tour de France: which Slovenian will stand on the top of the podium on Sunday on the Champs-Elysees?
Barring a crash, or an unexpected event like a positive Covid-19 test, the final week of racing should offer a showdown between the Jumbo-Visma team leader Primoz Roglic and his young challenger Tadej Pogacar, who rides for the United Arab Emirates team.
The two rivals from Slovenia have proved their superiority on the big climbs that punctuated the route over the past two weeks. They are only separated by 40 seconds in the general classification ahead of the race’s six remaining stages, which will provide more action in high mountains and an individual time trial before the traditional procession into Paris.
“It’s been a long time since I have not been at home, especially in Slovenia, but for sure it might be really crazy and nice,” Roglic said.
After defending champion Egan Bernal cracked during Sunday’s grueling ascent to the Grand Colombier to lose more than seven minutes in the Jura mountains, the pair’s closest opponent is another Colombian, Rigoberto Uran, who is lagging 1:34 behind Roglic overall.
Ahead of Tuesday’s (Wednesday in Manila) mountain stage to the ski station of Villard-de-Lans, fourth-place Miguel Angel Lopez has a 1:45 deficit, while Adam Yates, Richie Porte and Mikel Landa trail by more than two minutes.
The time difference is not that big, but the way Roglic’s team has been controlling the race so far does not bode well for Uran and the handful of riders who still hope they can turn things around.
Using an efficient and simple strategy displayed by the mighty Ineos team in previous years, Jumbo-Visma has dethroned the British outfit as the most potent squad. Their attrition technique is not tactically complicated, requiring a group of strong riders capable of setting a fast and steady tempo in ascents to break up the pack and prevent rivals from launching attacks.
That’s exactly what they managed on the Grand Colombier. On the steep ascent of the mountain, Roglic’s Belgian teammate, Wout van Aert, put in an impressive stint that proved fatal to Bernal and Nairo Quintana’s ambitions. Tom Dumoulin, a former Tour runner-up now riding in support of Roglic, then led the reduced pack of favorites until the final 600 meters, when the race leader finally attacked.
Unlike Roglic, Pogacar has to deliver alone. His team is lacking collective strength and the 21-year-old Tour rookie has drawn praise for his aggressive and clever racing.