RONCHAMPS, France (Reuters) - Slovenia’s Tadej Pogacar pulled off a major upset at the Tour de France by stunning compatriot Primoz Roglic to claim the overall leader’s yellow jersey with a monumental victory in the final individual time trial on Saturday.
The 21-year-old won the 36.2-km solo effort against the clock as Roglic, who had started the day with a 57-second lead in the general classification, cracked in the uphill section, a 5.9-km climb at an average gradient of 8.5%.
“I think I’m dreaming. I feel like my head is exploding,” said Pogacar, who leads second-placed Roglic by 59 seconds going into Sunday’s final stage, the traditional procession into Paris where only the final sprint on the Champs Elysees is contested.
“I was happy with the second place and now I’m here with the yellow jersey. I don’t know what to say, it’s unbelievable.
“I’m really proud of the team. They did such a big effort over three weeks. I feel sorry for Primoz Roglic.
“He had done a very good Tour de France so far and he had a bad day today. For me, to wear the yellow jersey on the final day, it’s just a dream and a big achievement.”
Pogacar, who is set to become the youngest winner of the Tour since Henri Cornet in 1904, clocked 55 minutes 55 seconds -- the perfection of the numbers matching his performance.
Roglic only took fifth place, 1:56 off the pace after what appeared to be a cautious start turned into a major meltdown.
The 30-year-old, who had controlled the whole race with his dominant Jumbo-Visma team, imploded on the climb and crossed the line with a livid face before sitting down on the road.
Pogacar has finally been rewarded for his aggressive tactics in the mountains, where he regained some of the time he had lost in crosswinds on a flat stage.
His upcoming victory is all the more remarkable in that, for most of the race, he was without his two lieutenants in the mountains, Fabio Aru and Davide Formolo after the Italians pulled out.
More astounding still was that Roglic had the service of the most formidable squad in the race. The 30-year-old will also have to live with regrets, having ridden very conservatively once he won the yellow jersey in the Pyrenees.
A raw talent who holds no fear, Pogacar, who celebrates his 22nd birthday on Monday, now holds three distinctive jerseys -- the yellow, the white jersey for the best Under-25 rider and the polka dot jersey for the mountains classification.
The upset echoes that of the last day of the 1989 Tour de France when American Greg LeMond won the race by eight seconds over France’s Laurent Fignon after starting the time-trial 50 seconds off the pace.
“It’s incredible, it’s one of the best Tours I’ve ever seen,” Lemond said on French television. “I think Roglic panicked on the climb. You could see that at some point he could not spin his legs.”
It also marks a spectacular return in the spotlight for team CEO Mauro Gianetti and team manager Matxin Fernandez who were sports directors at Saunier-Duval when the whole team left the 2008 Tour after Italian Riccardo Ricco had failed a dope test.
There was another major change on Saturday as Australian Richie Porte leapfrogged Colombian Miguel Angel Lopez into third place overall by finishing the 20th stage in third spot.
After losing all hope of victory following an opening day crash, Frenchman Thibaut Pinot rode through impressive crowds and smoke in his hometown of Melisey, where the roads had his name and that of his goat Kim painted all over them, adding to the sense of surrealism on the day.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ken Ferris and Ian Chadband
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