Pogacar eyes Tour title defense entering finale

Cycling

SAINT-EMILION, France — Tadej Pogacar is all but guaranteed to win a second straight Tour de France after completing the penultimate stage unscathed on Saturday.

With the final day of the race usually uneventful until the final sprint on the Champs-Elysees, the Stage 20 time trial marked the last serious test after nearly three exhausting weeks.

Given Pogacar’s near six-minute advantage at the start, it was always unlikely someone would be able to knock the Slovenian off his perch.

As Wout van Aert claimed the 31-kilometer (19-mile) stage from Libourne to Saint-Emilion, Pogacar played it safe and finished eighth. He will carry an insurmountable lead of 5 minutes, 20 seconds into the final day, a 109-kilometer (68-mile) stage from Chatou to Paris.

Pogacar won the delayed Tour last September at 21 and became the youngest champion in 116 years.

“I can’t compare both Tour de France victories. I can’t say which one is more beautiful,” he said. “This time, I took the yellow jersey quite earlier. It has been totally different.”

He routed all of his rivals in the first time trial in Laval, where he stamped his authority on the race before snatching the yellow jersey in the Alps. He reigned supreme in the Pyrenees, with two consecutive stage wins, and did not need to go full gas in the burning heat enveloping the vineyards of Saint-Emilion.

It was Van Aert’s second stage win this year after the versatile Belgian claimed the double ascent of the Mont Ventoux.

On a course with frequent changes of direction, Van Aert delivered a vintage performance of raw power to claim a fifth individual stage win at the Tour.

Van Aert clocked 35:53, winning by 21 seconds ahead of second-placed Kasper Asgreen. Jonas Vingegaard was third, 32 seconds off the pace.

“It is quite something,” Van Aert said. “Winning a Tour de France time trial has been one of the biggest objectives in my career. I’ve been really focused on this day in the last couple of days, and I’m so happy that I can finish it off. The course was perfect for me; it was more rolling and faster than the first TT.”

Van Aert can sprint, climb and time trial but is too heavy to fight for the general classification. He worked in support of Jumbo-Visma leader Primoz Roglic and was given more leeway by his team after Roglic retired from the race.

“It’s been a real hard Tour de France for our team, but in the end, we have three stage wins and we have Jonas in second on GC, which is an amazing result for only four guys left, so I’m really proud of how we fight.”

Overall, Vingegaard cemented his runner-up spot ahead of Richard Carapaz, who lagged 7:03 behind Pogacar.

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