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RIDING high on Saturday’s performance for the ages, 21-year-old Tour de France rookie Tadej Pogacar cruised into Paris in the yellow jersey today, assured of becoming the youngest post-war winner of the showpiece event that braved, and overcame, France’s worsening coronavirus epidemic.
On the 21st and final stage, a traditional procession where only riders not in the running for the podium chase the prestige of the stage victory, the Tour was celebrating multiple victories.
First and foremost, for Pogacar — who left the race breathless by snatching away the overall lead from Slovenian countryman Primoz Roglic at the last possible opportunity, in a high-drama time trial on Saturday.
But the Tour was celebrating a victory, too, over the coronavirus. It left the start town of Nice on the Mediterranean three weeks ago unsure that it would be able to negotiate unscathed through the epidemic to Sunday’s finish on Paris’s tree-lined Champs-Elysees.
But none of the 176 riders who started, or the 146 finishers who were riding into Paris, tested positive in multiple batteries of tests, validating the bubble of measures put in place by Tour organisers to shield them from infection.
Roadside fans still cheered them on, mostly through face masks, but were kept well away at stage starts and finishes.
They were most noticeable on Saturday, during the most dramatic finale to a Tour since Greg Lemond snatched yellow off the shoulders of Laurent Fignon in Paris in 1989.
The 36.2km time trial was supposed to suit the man who was spending his 11th day in the yellow jersey, but Roglic looked off his game from the start before his ambitions were shattered on the steep gradients to the finish.
He’d started the day with a 57-second advantage. But by the time he rolled over the line, looking dishevelled and a little shocked, he had shipped almost two minutes to Pogacar, who said he had not been able to hear the time gaps on race radio due to the noise of the crowds.
It completed a remarkable three weeks for Pogacar, making his Tour debut and riding only his second Grand Tour after third place in the Vuelta a Espana – won by Roglic – last year.
“I think I’m dreaming,” Pogacar had said on Saturday before his interview was interrupted by Roglic, who picked himself up off the floor to embrace the new race leader.
“We were dreaming that from the start and we achieved that and it’s just amazing. It was not just me, it was all the team. We did the recon — I knew every corner, every pothole on the road, where to accelerate. It was a road you need to know and that’s all thanks to my team …
“My dream was always just to be in the Tour de France, and now I’m here and I’ve just won before tomorrow the last stage, it’s unbelievable.”
Those victories aside, riders also came together today in solidarity with the only black rider in the race, B&B Hotels-Vital Concept’s Kevin Reza, to denounce racism.
Reza, who had recently expressed doubts that cycling could change to become more inclusive, started at the front of the pack today — partly because it began in his home region of Yvelines, but also in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Reza has been the subject of racist abuse from at least one other rider — Gianni Moscon, who was punished by his team by being kept from racing for six weeks — and the black rider told Cycling News this week that he didn’t see a lot of solidarity from the peloton as a whole.
But Cycling Weekly quoted Reza as saying today: “Finally. It took the world’s biggest race for the message to pass. I couldn’t make myself clear on this subject…
“There’s still a lot of work to do. This is a great start.”
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