Pogacar attacks in the Tour de France’s first big mountain stage and reclaims the yellow jersey

VALLOIRE, France (AP) — Uphill. Downhill. And everywhere else in between.

Tadej Pogacar is dominating cycling like few riders ever have.

The Slovenian standout’s latest exploit came in the fourth stage of the Tour de France on Tuesday, when he attacked near the top of the race’s first big mountain pass and extended his lead during the twisty, high-speed descent to take back the yellow jersey.

Displaying full confidence as he hit speeds of nearly 90 kph (56 mph) coming down from the 2,642-meter (8,668-foot) Col du Galibier, Pogacar opened up nearly a full-minute gap on his biggest rival, defending champion Jonas Vingegaard.

“This was more or less the plan and we executed it truly well,” Pogacar said after his 12th career stage win at the Tour. “I wanted to hit hard today. I know this stage really well. I’ve been training here many days. It felt like a home stage.

“I had confidence in the start, I had good legs, and I had to try it. I know the downhill but I was a little bit surprised to see wet road in the first few corners. So it was a little bit scary.”

The roads were slick from melting snow banks.

Vingegaard did his best to limit the damage but finished 37 seconds behind on stage four as the race crossed back into France after the opening stages in Italy.

The Galibier met expectations as the Tour’s first decisive battleground, with previous leader Richard Carapaz was dropped on the grueling climb.

Pogacar has been producing similar displays all season.

He won four of the five races he entered before the Tour, collecting 14 victories in 31 days of racing — including prestigious trophies at the Giro d’Italia, Strade Bianche and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

Pogacar, who also wore yellow after Stage 2, is aiming for the rare Giro-Tour double after dominating the Italian Grand Tour in May. He’s also aiming for his third Tour title after wins in 2020 and 2021. He was runner-up to Vingegaard the last two years.

The last rider to win the Giro and the Tour in the same year was Marco Pantani in 1998.

Tour rookie Remco Evenepoel, the Spanish Vuelta and world champion in 2022, crossed second in the stage, 35 seconds behind Pogacar. Juan Ayuso, Pogacar’s UAE teammate, finished third with the same time.

Primoz Roglic crossed fourth and Vingegaard fifth.

Overall, Pogacar established a 45-second lead over Evenepoel and a 50-second advantage over Vingegaard.

“It’s never nice to lose time, but to be honest I expected bigger time differences after four stages,” Vingegaard said.

With Pogacar’s UAE Team Emirates squad setting a fast pace on the climb, only Vingegaard and a handful of other riders were able to keep up toward the top of the Galibier.

Then Pogacar attacked with 800 meters (yards) to go and created about a 10-second advantage over Vingegaard at the summit. There were about 20 kilometers of descending to the finish and Pogacar extended his lead over the more cautious Vingegaard, who suffered a high-speed crash in April, breaking his collarbone and ribs and leaving him with a collapsed lung.

Vingegaard was second at the summit and Evenepoel was third.

“Let’s not forget that (Vingegaard) had a very bad crash three months ago and in the descent maybe the last bit of confidence is still not there,” Grischa Niermann, the sports director for Vingegaard’s Visma team said. “Bike racing is also downhill, not only uphill.”

At the finish line, Pogacar had plenty of time to pound his chest and raise his fists in celebration.

The route from Pinerolo, Italy, to Valloire was relatively short at 140 kilometers (87 miles) but with two category two climbs to Sestriere and Montgenevre before the grueling ascent to the Galibier, it marked the first true test of the Tour.

The Galibier — the first “hors catégorie” (beyond category) climb this year — lasted 23 kilometers (14 miles) at an average gradient of 5.1%. The hardest parts came near the summit, where the road tilted upward to a gradient of nearly 10%.

Before the summit lies a monument to Tour de France founder Henri Desgrange.

Big climbs like the Galibier usually come later in the race. But organizers mixed things up with the start in Italy and the finish slated for Nice so as not to conflict with the Paris Olympics.

Stage 5 on Wednesday is a much less challenging 177-kilometer (110-mile) leg from Saint-Jean-De-Maurienne to Saint-Vulbas featuring two fourth-category climbs before a flat finish that could end with a sprint. There’s another flat stage on Thursday before the race’s first individual time trial on Friday.


AP cycling: https://apnews.com/hub/cycling

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