This article originally appeared on VeloNews.com
The 21-year-old Slovenian bettered countryman Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) in the kick to the line in Pyrénéan town Laruns, with young Swiss rider Marc Hirschi (Sunweb) snatching third. Pogačar’s victory comes in his debut Tour de France, and just his second-ever grand tour.
Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) and Mikel Landa (Bahrain-McLaren) completed the group that had made the last gasp sprint after another fierce day of racing in the Pyrénées.
“After that hard day to win the stage is really incredible,” Pogačar said after the race. “I wanted to gain as much time as I could in GC. In the last 800 meters, I knew [I could gain] a few seconds, and a stage win is 10 seconds also, so I was focusing too for the sprint”
The bonus seconds available to the stage-winner, along with the 39 seconds he gained in stage 8 Saturday, sees Pogačar steadily chipping away at the time he lost in the crosswinds of stage 7. He is now seventh overall, 44 seconds behind Roglic.
“I am thinking about GC, that’s why I am here,” Pogačar said. “I lost some time [on Friday], but that doesn’t mean anything. The GC game has just started.”
Hirschi had come to within two kilometres of a remarkable solo breakaway win having gone clear with 100km of racing to go, only to be caught by the chase group of Roglič, Pogačar, Bernal and Landa in the final uphill drag to the line.
Overnight race leader Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) lost nearly one minute on the stage and slips to eighth overall at 1:02. Roglič now leads the GC, 21 seconds ahead of Bernal.
“I did my best,” Yates said. “I came into the race knowing I wasn’t 100 per cent and I did everything I could to hang on, I think we can be proud of what we did. I can freshen up now in the rest day [Monday] and go on and hunt for some stages.”
How it Unfolded
The Tour’s second day of racing in the Pyrénées got off to a ferocious start as riders battled to get into a breakaway, with Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and riders from Sunweb, Trek-Segafredo and EF Pro Cycling all unsuccessfully trying their luck.
The race only settled as it hit the early slopes of Col de la Hourcere, the first major climb of the day.
Having launched several attempts to get into a breakthrough the opening hour of the race, Hirschi made a move stick and by the summit, was alone with a sizeable gap over a group of eight chasing behind.
Seven of Jumbo-Visma’s eight riders controlled a group of around 40 in the bunch behind, with Mitchelton-Scott, UAE-Team Emirates and Ineos Grenadiers all outnumbered by the Dutch team.
Hirschi continued to grow his gap through the damp, mist-enshrouded descent off the Soudet, and going into the valleys heading toward the final climb of the day, had managed to build nearly five minutes of a gap.
As the peloton swelled to around 60 in the valley and swallowed up the chase group of eight, the 22-year-old escapee continued his long lonely time trial up the steep slopes the Col de Marie Blanque, the final climb of the day, still nursing around three minutes’ advantage.
After Jumbo-Visma had continued to set the pace through to the middle of the steep Col, the race began to splinter. Entering onto the fierce 12 per cent gradients midway through the climb, support riders for Yates and Bernal began to fall off the back as Kuss and Dumoulin cranked up the tempo, with all the top-10 GC contenders all lurking close behind.
Pogačar again went on the attack after his long-range move over the Peyresourde on Saturday. The Slovenian’s first move dropped Yates and made the selection, with just Bernal, Roglič, Landa and Richie Porte (Trek Segafredo) able to hang on as he launched several further accelerations.
Behind them, the second group of GC riders chased around 20 seconds back, with Yates shedding seconds in a group further down the road.
With bonus seconds available at the summit of the climb, Roglič managed to outsprint Bernal and Pogačar to scoop up some valuable space in the tight GC battle.
Up ahead of them, Hirschi had railed the descent as he looked to cling on to his ever-diminishing advantage.
It looked all-so promising for the young Sunweb rider as he continued to hold 20 seconds over the chase group of Roglic, Landa, Pogacar and Bernal as they entered the final 10km drag up to the finish in Laruns. However, with the quartet of yellow jersey riders looking to grab bonus seconds available to the stage winner, he was hoovered up just 1500 meters from the line.
Nonetheless, the Hirschi was able to hang in the wheels of the group as Roglič led them toward the line.
The Jumbo-Visma rider accelerated first in the bid for stage honours, with Hirschi coming up fast from the back of the group. The Sunweb rider looked like he was coming close to snatching the stage, but Pogačar had the kick to come around him in the final 50 meters.
Having taken second on the stage, Roglič now takes the GC lead going into the race’s first rest day Monday.
“It is beautiful,” Roglic said of his yellow leader’s jersey. “It is the first time that I hold it. Everyone I think is dreaming about when to wear it. Also, for the guys [in the team], they did an amazing job, it is awesome for them. I will wear it with pride.”
Imagery ©Kristof Ramon
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