Tadej Pogačar avoids disaster and rides another day in the yellow jersey of the Tour de France

Tadej Pogačar avoids disaster and rides another day in the yellow jersey of the Tour de France
Tadej Pogačar avoids disaster and rides another day in the yellow jersey of the Tour de France

“Don’t get over it,” Cavendish told the Slovenian after the race about the record of 35 stage wins he had just achieved, and the race leader joked: “I’ll give him whatever he wants.”

A largely uneventful, bordering on boring fifth stage of the Tour de France followed a flat 177km route from the base of the Alps to Saint-Vulbas, a small town near Lyon, but was enlivened by perhaps only two events.

First, there were the events of the final sprint, as Mark Cavendish charged to that 35th Tour stage win, a record he and his Astana Qazaqstan team have been striving for for the past two seasons.

Secondly, race leader Tadej Pogačar was involved in a disastrous situation 59km from the finish. The yellow jersey, who was leading the pack, narrowly avoided a warning that had come out in the middle of a fork in the road between two lanes and managed to get around it at the last moment.

Behind the Slovenian, a massacre broke out as several riders, each squeezed into a space that no longer existed, fell to the ground. Pogačar later admitted that he had been lucky and that his bike-riding instincts came to the rescue at the last moment.

“My handling of the bike was good, but my reaction time was not,” he said. “I almost crashed. I’m lucky I avoided that. I’m glad the stage is over. It’s one day less and we’re moving on.”

After that incident, Pogačar no longer had to avoid any more obstacles in the sprint stage and the yellow jersey crossed the finish line in 35th place, happy to keep his lead of the race, and indeed his race, intact.

Afterwards, he was able to celebrate another day in yellow on the podium and also congratulate Cavendish for beating Eddy Merckx’s long-standing record. As the pair prepared for the podium ceremony, Cavendish gave him a playful squeeze on the face and said, “Don’t beat it,” in reference to his new record.

“No, don’t worry,” replied Pogačar, who with his 12 stage wins is not close to the legendary sprinter. At least not yet.

Pogačar later spoke of how he, 14 years younger than the 39-year-old Cavendish, watched the Manx rider win stages as he grew up.

“When I was a kid, I watched Mark with my friends and my brother,” he said. “He was a hero to a lot of guys. He won in that category with the team. I’ve been racing against him for six years now. We became very good friends, I would say. Winning the 35th stage is a historic company.”

“Mark asked me from behind the podium: ‘Please don’t break this record’, so I’ll let him,” he joked.

Barring any further setbacks on Stage 6, another flat, sprint-friendly start, Pogačar’s next big Tour challenge comes on Friday in the first of the route’s two time trials, a mountainous 25.3km section from Nuits-Saint-Georges to Gevrey-Chambertin.

Tour de France riders constantly talk about “taking the race day by day” and no doubt Pogačar will have the same mantra in mind as the race heads deeper into France after its Italian Grande Partenza.

Still, he expressed confidence in his skills and materials for time trials, which he said had improved even since his dominant display during the first half of his double bid to win the Giro and Tour in May.

“I already felt good at the Giro and I think that after the Giro we have improved a bit also in terms of equipment, reducing the weight of the bike,” said Pogačar. “I can’t wait to see how I do. I am going with full confidence to face Remco, probably the best time trialist in the world, as well as Roglič and Vingegaard. I am confident.”

“He’s in good shape,” he added when asked about reigning world time trial champion Evenepoel. “I’ve never raced with him that much, so I can’t tell you if he’s in his best form on the bike. He’s definitely improving since the Critérium du Dauphiné and he’s in good form here, so I think we can see him flying in the time trial.”

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