On the first full day in the mountains, an otherworldly performance from the reigning champion saw him turn a deficit of just under four minutes at the start of the day into a lead of almost two at its end. Pogacar not taking the stage almost seemed like an act of generosity from the 22-year-old, as if he did not want his performance to appear too dominant.

Although shorter than yesterday’s blistering Stage 7 by 100km, Stage 8 packed no less into its distance. An uphill start on the uncategorised but not unchallenging Forêt d’Échallon brought the action to the race from the fall of the race director’s flag. Casualties came quickly. The first of these were largely fastmen, like Arnaud Demare and Tim Merlier, which was expected. Reports then reached that Geraint Thomas had also fallen away from the front of the race. The 2018 Tour winner had hoped his injuries had healed enough to allow him to ride back into overall contention. A moto brought visual confirmation that they had not. Thomas would eventually cross the line with the grupetto, in 174th place, 35 minutes after the stage winner.

The race rolled on, soon splitting into two sizable bunches of the best and the rest, respectively. Team Jumbo Visma’s Primož Roglič was initially in the former group before it became clear that his body could not cope with the pace being set by sprinters hungry for green jersey points. Roglic cut a forlorn figure as an almost cruel camera bike focussed on a face that could not even hide behind sunglasses in the rain.

Mark Cavendish after being dropped early on, presented an opportunity for his punchier rivals to regain some ground. Bahrain Victorious’ Sonny Colbrelli took maximum points at the intermediate sprint, 39km into the stage, with Michael Matthews of Team BikeExchange in second.

Their day is done, the pace eased a little, but not for long, as the race to make the breakaway began in earnest. Even then, it would take another 35km for one acceptable to the teams of the yellow and white jerseys to form in full. The ones that eventually did contain some serious talent, including Alejandro Valverde, Nairo Quintana and Simon Yates, though none within six minutes of the race lead. As the group established a lead of three to four minutes, behind them the peloton seemed content to let one of them take the day – “seemed” being the operative word – as Pogacar and MVDP ate, drank and made merry. That truce would not last long.

Trek’s Kenny Elissonde was the one to light the touchpaper, one kilometre from the top of the Cote de Mont-Saxonnex. Elissonde’s attack was chased down by WoutPoels, keen to keep the King of the Mountains jersey in his Bahrain Victorious team, before a pair of Team DSM riders, TiesjBenoot and SørenKragh Andersen, went over the top when the road headed downhill.

The duo worked well together, building an advantage of several minutes, with Kragh Anderson briefly threatening the overall race lead.

On the penultimate climb, the Col de Romme, it was Mike Woods’ turn to try something. After making his move, the Canadian quickly reached and passed Kragh Anderson to become the leader on the road. Behind them, in the peloton, Ineos Grenadiers began to push the pace. Working for their new leader Richard Carapaz, Michal Kwiatkowski and Tao Geoghegan Hart increased pressure on Mathieu van der Poel until, at around 33km to go, the yellow jersey also fell out of contention.

Just a few kilometres later, Tadej Pogacar decided to show them what he was made of. Carapaz was the only rider who could stay with the Slovenian, and even then, for barely a few hundred metres. He was a man on a mission, and he executed it flawlessly.
He hoovered up rider after rider from the original breakaway, eating into Woods’ four-minute lead over him like it was made of marshmallow. The maillot jaune was in the bag; the only question was whether there was enough road left for him to take the stage as well.

With Pogacar closing fast, Dylan Teuns, having reached Michael Woods, saw fit to drop him towards the top of La Colombiere. It was the right decision. A solo Teuns took a few calculated risks on the descent, but every one of them paid off. He was able to extend his margin into a stage-winning one, crossing the line with a margin of 44 seconds over Ion Izagirre.

Pogacar finished the stage in fourth place to take his place as the undisputed race leader.

Credit must go to Wout van Aert, in his new, un-asked for the role of Jumbo Visma team leader, who put in a valiant effort to cling on for as long as possible. The Belgian champion came home in 21st place and is now the only rider less than two minutes behind Pogacar. Only four more riders are within five.

“Who’s your biggest rival?” Seb Piquet asked the new leader after the stage. “Is it TadejPogacar?” The modest Slovenian was not so modest as to disagree.

Action from Tour De France – Stage 9 – Cluses – Tignes can be watched live on EUROSPORT and EUROSPORT HD from 16:45 Hrs (04:45 pm IST) onwards on Sunday, July 4. Eurosport channel can now be live-streamed on the discovery+ app.

Also read: Tour de France 2021: Matej Mohoric wins Stage 7, van der Poel retains Yellow



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