Mathieu van der Poel of Alpecin-Fenix dug deep during today's Stage 5 of the Tour de France to cling onto the race leader's yellow jersey, with a storming ride by Tadej Pogacar of UAE Team Emirates, the fastest man on the course today, putting the defending champion just 8 seconds off the race lead as he moves up to second place overall.
Pogacar finished the flat but technical 27.2km stage from Changé to Laval in a time of 32 minutes dead at an average speed of 51kph to shatter European champion Stefan Kung of Groupama-FDJ’s hopes of a first Tour de France stage win, the Swiss rider posting the second-fastest time, 19 seconds down on the Slovenian.
This morning, 16 riders were within a minute of van der Poel, and predictions were that the most serious threat to his leadership of the race would come from last year’s runner-up in the discipline at the UCI Road World Championships, Wout Van Aert.
The Belgian began the day fourth overall and 31 seconds off the lead, but it soon became apparent that the biggest challenge to van der Poel was Pogacar, a further eight seconds back on GC before the stage.
The 22-year-old looked poised to get back into the yellow jersey he won in sensational manner on last year’s penultimate day but van der Poel held on to maintain a slender advantage and retain his overall lead.
Elsewhere, some overall contenders lost significant time to the defending champion on an afternoon played out under intermittent rain and which has seen another shuffling of the GC.
The man Pogacar overhauled in the time trial last year to win the Tour de France, his friend and compatriot Primoz Roglic of Jumbo-Visma, put in the fastest time of the main challengers, but still lost 44 seconds.
It was a highly creditable performance given the injuries he sustained when he crashed late on during Monday’s stage, and while he climbed 10 places to 10th overall, he is 1 minute 44 seconds off the race lead, and 1 minute 32 seconds down on Pogacar.
Another rider who crashed that day, the 2018 champion Geraint Thomas of Ineos Grenadiers, ceded 1 minute 18 seconds. He rises 6 places to 12th overall, with a deficit of 1 minute 54 seconds.
His team mate Richard Carapaz remains the highest placed Ineos Grenadiers rider, but dropped 6 places to 9th on GC, shipping 1 minute 44 seconds to Pogacar – the exact same time he now lies behind van der Poel.
Other riders whose hopes of a high overall placing in Paris a fortnight on Sunday were dealt a blow on an afternoon that produced some bigger than expected time gaps included Wilco Keldermann of Bora Hansgrohe – a past Dutch national champion – and Movistar’s Enric Mas, both of whom lost 1 minute 49 seconds.
Tomorrow sees what should be a stage for the sprinters, covering 160.6km from Tours to Chateauroux, where Mark Cavendish took his first ever Tour de France stage win way back in 2009, and all eyes will be on the Deceuninck-Quick Step rider following his victory yesterday in Fougeres, his first success at the race in five years.
Picture credit A.S.O./Pauline Ballet
Stage winner Tadej Pogacar
Today was a beautiful day for me: I didn’t make any mistakes and I rode in perfect weather and temperature conditions, while other athletes were caught in the rain.
I knew the route and, compared to the last two time trials that I had raced and in which I had started too strong, today I set the right pace that allowed me to pedal perfectly until the end.
The goal of the day was not to lose ground from my direct rivals, in reality I gained important seconds and this makes me very happy.
I can’t say if it was better not to have taken the yellow jersey or not, but I’m very happy to wear the white jersey also.
Race leader Mathieu van der Poel
Today I had one of the best days I had so far in my career on the bike. I felt really, really strong. And also the jersey gave me wings.
It was really special to ride this jersey to the French crowds, and I'm really proud of this achievement. It's one that I will remember for a long time. I think I really surprised myself today.
Last summer I knew that I had to watts to compete with the strongest guys in time trials but it was just a matter of position.
It was something I was already asking about for a longer time, to put some efforts in time trials because it can make a difference in small stages like the BinckBank Tour.
Today we changed the handlebars. It was not really custom made for me, but it was just more aerodynamic. We also raised the bar a little bit so I was more comfortable. And then of course, the helmet and the wheels.
I think the mountain stages, it's really not realistic to keep the jersey against Pogačar. Maybe I could keep it for another two days. But then I have to give it back to a climber I think.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.