SAINT-EMILION, France (AP) — There was no drama this time, and Tadej Pogacar is all but guaranteed to win a second straight Tour de France. The defending champion from Slovenia just needed to play it safe in Saturday’s time trial to put the finishing touches to his summer triumph and retain his yellow jersey. That’s precisely what he did, placing eighth almost one minute behind stage winner Wout van Aert.
It was a sharp contrast to last year’s final race against the Planche des Belles Filles clock. The UAE Team Emirates rider clinched the overall win with a last-minute effort in one of the most remarkable turnarounds in the history of the race. ““Last year, everything was decided on the last (time trial), and the emotions were by far stronger,” Pogacar said.
With the race’s final day on Sunday usually uneventful until the last sprint on the Champs-Elysees, the Stage 20 time trial marked the previous severe test after nearly three exhausting weeks. Given Pogacar’s near six-minute advantage at the start, it was unlikely someone would be able to knock the Slovenian off his perch.
As Van Aert claimed the 31-kilometer (19-mile) stage from Libourne to Saint-Emilion, Pogacar did not take any risks, conceding 57 seconds to the Belgian champion. He will carry an insurmountable lead of five minutes, 20 seconds into the final day, a 109-kilometer (68-mile) stage from Chatou to Paris. Pogacar won the delayed Tour last September at 21 and became the youngest champion in 116 years.
“I can’t compare both Tour de France victories. I can’t say which one is more beautiful,” he said. ““This time, I took the yellow jersey quite earlier. It has been totally different.” Pogacar routed all of his rivals during the first week of crash-filled racing. He stamped his authority on the race in the first time trial in Laval and snatched the yellow jersey in the Alps. He reigned supreme in the Pyrenees with two consecutive stage wins and did not need to go full gas in the burning heat enveloping the vineyards of Saint-Emilion.
Van Aert’s second stage win this year after the versatile Belgian claimed the double ascent of the Mont Ventoux. On a course with frequent direction changes, Van Aert delivered a vintage raw power performance to declare a fifth individual stage win at the Tour. Van Aert had 21 seconds on second-placed Kasper As green, and Jonas Vingegaard was third, 32 seconds off the pace.
“It is quite something,” Van Aert said. “Winning a Tour de France time trial has been one of the biggest objectives in my career. I’ve been really focused on this day in the last couple of days, and I’m so happy that I can finish it off. The course was perfect for me; it was more rolling and faster than the first TT.”
Van Aert can sprint, climb, and time trial but is too heavy to fight for the general classification. He supported Jumbo-Visma leader Primoz Roglic and was given more leeway by his team after Roglic retired from the race.
“It’s been a real hard Tour de France for our team, but in the end, we have three stage wins, and we have Jonas in second on GC, which is an amazing result for only four guys left, so I’m really proud of how we fight.” Overall, Vingegaard cemented his runner-up spot ahead of Richard Carapaz, who lagged 7:03 behind Pogacar. More Tour de France coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/TourdeFrance and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports.