Tadej Pogacar passed his first test of the Tour de France with flying colors as he won time over all his rivals in an old fifth stage on the cobbled streets on Wednesday.
Suffering on the 19km of cobblestones of the 157km Lille ride, the two-time defending champion finished 51 seconds behind stage winner Simon Clarke of Australia but outperformed the overall contenders.
“It was a really good day for me, I wasn’t unlucky and felt good on the cobbles,” said Pogacar, who has never competed in the Paris-Roubaix cobblestone classic as a professional.
“I couldn’t stay strong until the end, but I tried.”
Pogacar jumped out of the group of leading contenders with Belgium’s Jasper Stuyven, extending a lead of almost a minute before running out of gas in the final.
“But it’s definitely a confidence boost. I have a good feeling,” he added.
Clarke prevailed in a lung-busting sprint finish, beating Dutchman Taco van der Hoorn and Norway’s Edvald Boasson Hagen, who finished second and third respectively.
Wout van Aert retained the overall lead for his Jumbo Visma team at the end of a bad day, with Primoz Roglic, second in 2020 and one of the pre-race favourites, losing more than two minutes to fellow Slovenian Pogacar after a crash that left him behind a dislocated shoulder.
It was replayed by his teammates but Roglic is now more than two minutes behind Pogacar.
Van Aert also hit the deck but stayed on the ground throughout the stage, helping his teammates chase all day.
“We gave everything. Of course it wasn’t a good day for us because of the crashes and the mechanics, but we showed that we can work hard when things don’t go as we wished,” said Van Aert.
Among the other favourites, last year’s runner-up Jonas Vingegaard, also of Jumbo Visma, finished 13 seconds behind Pogacar after a long comeback from a mechanical problem.
2018 champion Geraint Thomas also limited the damage as he finished in Vingegaard’s group.
Australia’s Ben O’Connor, who surprisingly finished fourth in the standings last year, didn’t make it back into the field, losing more than three minutes to Pogacar.
The Bahrain Victorious Team hurt even more when their leader, Jack Haig, retired after a fall.
Overall, Van Aert leads American Neilson Powless, fourth, by 13 seconds and Boasson Hagen by 14 seconds.
Pogacar is fourth, 19 seconds off the pace.
Before the race even reaches the mountains, he leads Vingegaard by 21 seconds.
https://www.independent.ie/sport/other-sports/cycling/tadej-pogacar-gains-time-on-rivals-as-simon-clarke-wins-fifth-stage-of-tour-de-france-41819295.html Tadej Pogacar gains time on rivals as Simon Clarke wins stage five of the Tour de France