Tadej Pogacar retains Tour de France lead ahead of famous climb

His lead is just 11 seconds after a dramatic finish on Tuesday, but two-time defending champion Tadej Pogacar appears to have taken over the Tour de France and is beginning to edge his rivals out of the running.

With 10 stages out of 21 completed, Pogacar of Slovenia has already left one of the pre-race favorites, fellow countryman Primoz Roglic, well behind, almost three minutes behind him in 13th place. At the moment only Denmark’s Jonas Vingegaard, in third place, 39 seconds back, appears to have a realistic chance of beating Pogacar. The next two riders in the standings, Britain’s Geraint Thomas and Adam Yates, are now more than a minute behind the leader.

Second-placed Lennard Kämna of Germany also feels more like an escape than a real contender for the leader’s yellow jersey; Kämna is only holding his current position because he has gained more than eight and a half minutes on the leader by being part of a long-range breakaway that included Tuesday’s stage winner, Denmark’s Magnus Cort. Hardly anyone expects Kämna to stay up there for long.

With two of the toughest stages of the race ahead, including Thursday’s spectacular climb up the switchbacks of L’Alpe d’Huez, Pogacar has a chance to hammerlock the race with 10 days to go.

The Tour is won in the mountains, as race historians know, but Pogacar threw down the gauntlet on July 1 in the opening stages of the race, finishing third in an eight-mile time trial, hardly his specialty.

He took the overall lead last Thursday in Stage 6, a hilly – but not really mountainous – section, using a climb to sprint away from the front group.

The next day, the race concluded with the Super Planche des Belles Filles in the Alps, a climb that ends with a punishing 24 percent incline on a dirt road. Pogacar led a group that included all the top contenders to chase down a breakaway. When they caught him just before the finish line, Vingegaard wanted to take advantage by moving away from his rivals and he seemed to have won the stage. But Pogacar found another gear and overtook him for back-to-back stage wins.

Impressive performances like these have led some fans and analysts to already award Pogacar the overall win barring accidents, injuries or a spectacular loss of form.

If he breaks through or Vingegaard or someone else challenges him seriously, maybe it has to happen in the next two days.

Wednesday’s stage sends riders up four major Alpine mountains, including the switchback Télégraphe and the race’s highest point, the Galibier, before reaching the narrow Col du Granon, a climb last seen at the Tour in 1986, all at once Day the American Greg LeMond took over the yellow jersey.

On Thursday, the tour organizers send the riders, somewhat sadistically, up the Galibier and then the Croix de Fer. These climbs are followed by the Tour’s most iconic mountain, the scenic Alpe d’Huez, which is part of the circuit for the first time since 2018. The endless switchbacks on this climb almost always provide drama, whether in a duel among leaders or a solo crowning glory for a dominant rider.

One possibility this week, as seen in some previous tours, is that Pogacar is playing it safe and avoiding a major attack, instead simply opting to stay close to his challengers and maintain his lead, where he ended up of the stages maybe snaps a few seconds . In that case, the race for next week’s climbs in the Pyrenees remains in limbo.

But so far this year, Pogacar has shown a tendency not to hold back, instead seizing his opportunities, winning stages and causing trouble for his opponents. He tried that again on Tuesday when he sped towards the line from a group that included Vingegaard, looking back to see how much of a lead he had built up, how many valuable seconds he might have gained.

Those looking for a surprise might point out that Pogacar has lost two of his seven team-mates to Covid positives, leaving his team, UAE outfit Emirates, somewhat thin.

But if Pogacar, still just 23, actually gains even more time on Wednesday and Thursday, he could lock out the yellow jersey and the race.