I hate time trials. They’re always dull and they’re a nightmare to work on because everything is happening simultaneously, while also nothing is happening at all. They wear on and on, covering hardly any distance and yet taking up the same amount of time as a 160-kilometre sprint stage. Eventually someone on comms will start talking about gear ratios, and that’s when you really know it’s over.
And then, in the space of 57 minutes and 55 seconds, that all changed. For one crystalline not-quite-an-hour, all the moving parts of the world’s largest circus coalesced into the lungs and limbs of one 21-year-old.
How many times have we described a time triallist as metronomic? A million, at least. But today that’s what Tadej Pogacar was. He rode to win the bike race. He rode faster than everyone else. He rode with an intensity of intention and an unerring confidence in his ability that older men in the race (which is pretty much everyone, by the way) could not replicate.
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Primoz Roglic knows what it feels like to lose a Grand Tour and you could see that this afternoon. The remembered pain loomed up in his mind and his legs, and opened a crack for the totally fearless Pogacar to thunder right through.
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His legs pumped with a terrible purpose, while his body swayed hardly at all. He ate up time, first nibbling away at the cushion Roglic spent the past three weeks building, then taking great greedy bites out of it, and then when all of the cushion was gone, he started tearing chunks of time out of the mountain itself.
When the bike change came – and try explaining that concept to your friends who don’t watch cycling – the situation was still retrievable. Roglic had half of his lead still intact.
UAE Team Emirates got their man onto his road bike slightly faster than Jumbo-Visma did theirs, but we’re talking about a couple of seconds, not the yawning chasm that eventually opened up between the two riders. Looking back though, you have to wonder if the damage was already done.
Only he knows for sure, but it looked like Roglic lost the race in the moments right after the change. His laboured pedalling style, out of the saddle and straining forward, was a stark contrast to how we’ve seen him climb this year when he has taken his mountaintop victories. This is the guy who has a seated uphill acceleration to rival Cancellara and Ullrich. He looked, as Eurosport’s Brian Smith said on air, “rattled”.
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To hear on the flat part of the stage, the terrain that should have suited him better than it suited Pogacar, that he had already lost 20-or-so seconds would have been like a shard of ice through the heart for Roglic. It was a mental blow from which he couldn’t recover.
Roglic thrives on control. He loves predictability and relies on his super-strong team to police the race and ensure the narrative plays out to his liking. In an individual time trial, your team can’t help you. In the TT, you really are alone.
As he lost ever-increasing quantities of time on the climb of the Planche des Belles Filles, Roglic seemed to snatch at his disappearing chances all the more. When the time difference finally tipped in Pogacar’s favour, all that was left for him was four kilometres of calvary. He crossed the line looking empty. His aerodynamic helmet had somehow become askew. He collapsed on the ground and was surrounded by his teammates, Tom Dumoulin and Wout van Aert.
It speaks volumes about the character of Roglic that, as soon as he was able to get up and walk, he went to congratulate his compatriot, interrupting Pogacar’s post-race interview. It was a rare sight of emotion from the older man, while the reality had not yet sunk in for the younger.
This was not a changing of the guard, this was a meteorite hitting the guardhouse.
Time trials? I bloody love them.
Classy Roglic congratulates Pogacar mid-interview
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