There is just one big question left to be answered at the Tour de France: which Slovenian will stand on top of the podium come Sunday on the Champs-Elysees.
Baring a crash, or an unexpected event event like a positive COVID-19 test, the final week of racing should offer a showdown between the Jumbo-Visma team leader Primoz Roglic and his young challenger Tadej Pogacar, who rides for the UAE Emirates team.
The two rivals from Slovenia have proved their superiority in the big climbs that punctuated the route over the past two weeks. They are only separated by a 40-second gap in the general classification ahead of the race's six remaining stages that will provide more action in high mountains and an individual time trial before the traditional procession into Paris.
Slovenia’s Primoz Roglic, in the leader’s yellow jersey, with compatriot Tadej Pogacar on a tough day of climbing.Credit:AP
After defending champion Egan Bernal cracked during Sunday's grueling ascent to the Grand Colombier to lose more than seven minutes in the Jura mountains, the pair's closest opponent is another Colombian, Rigoberto Uran, who is lagging one minute and 34 seconds behind Roglic overall.
Ahead of Tuesday's mountain stage to the ski station of Villard-de-Lans, fourth-placed Miguel Angel Lopez has a 1:45 deficit, while Adam Yates, Australian Richie Porte and Mikel Landa trail by more than two minutes.
The time difference is not that big, but the way Roglic's team has been controlling the race so far does not bode well for Uran and the handful of riders who still hope they can turn the standings around.
Using an efficient and simple strategy displayed by the mighty Ineos team in previous years, Jumbo-Visma has dethroned the British outfit as the most potent squad. Their attrition technique is not tactically complicated, requiring a group of strong riders capable of setting a fast and steady tempo in ascents to break up the pack and prevent rivals from launching attacks.
That's exactly what they managed on the Grand Colombier. On the steep ascent of the mountain, Roglic's Belgian teammate Wout van Aert put in an impressive stint that proved fatal to Bernal and Nairo Quintana's ambitions. Tom Dumoulin, a former Giro d'Italia champion now riding in support of Roglic, then led the reduced pack of favourites until the final 600m, when the race leader finally attacked.
Unlike Roglic, Pogacar has to deliver alone. His team is lacking collective strength and the 21-year-old Tour rookie should be praised for his aggressive and clever racing.
Pogacar beat Roglic in a sprint at the top of the Grand Colombier to claim a second stage win Sunday and reduced his overall deficit thanks to a time bonus. But his options to seize the yellow jersey are not many. He first needs to try and isolate his compatriot in the Alps, then gain more time in Saturday’s race against the clock at the Planche des Belles Filles. Pogacar beat Roglic in the Slovenian time trial championships earlier this summer.
"The perfect scenario would be to take it on the evening of the final time trial but we live in a real world. If there’s a chance to take it I will try," Pogacar said.
Monday was a rest day as riders underwent more COVID-19 tests that could rule some out contention if they return a positive result. If a competitor is confirmed positive, he will be automatically excluded while any team that registers two or more positives could be sent home Tuesday when the results will be unveiled.
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