Tadej Pogacar has the Tour de France at his mercy after a dominant ride powered him into the yellow jersey as his rivals crumbled on the first day in the Alps.
Pogacar rode away from Richard Carapaz on the penultimate climb of the 151km stage from Oyonnax to Le Grand-Bornand to deliver a crushing blow, while injuries caught up with Geraint Thomas and Primoz Roglic to put them out of the running.
Dylan Teuns was crowned the winner of stage eight but the day will be remembered for Pogacar’s stunning performance. The Tour is only week old but it is now difficult to see who might challenge the defending champion before Paris.
The updated general classification showed Pogacar leading by one minute 48 seconds from Wout van Aert – the Belgian not considered an overall contender – with Alexey Lutsenko third, some four minutes and 38 seconds down. Carapaz, sixth, is five minutes and one second from yellow.
There have been questions over how much support Pogacar’s UAE Team Emirates squad can offer the 22-year-old, who wore yellow for only one day in last year’s Tour and never needed to defend it, but it will not matter if he rides like this.
The Slovenian attacked on the penultimate climb, the Col de Romme, shortly after Mathieu van der Poel – the Tour debutant in his sixth day in yellow – had begun to go backwards.
Though Carapaz briefly followed, the Ecuadorian could cling on for only a few moments before watching Pogacar disappear up the road and begin to reel in a disintegrating breakaway.
He briefly threatened to catch Teuns on the Col de la Colombiere, but had already done enough damage to the race and instead rode in with Ion Izagirre and Michael Woods, who took second and third on the stage respectively.
“This morning I said we’ll see how it goes,” Pogacar said. “The start was super hard, there were riders everywhere, but I felt good in this weather, it feels great, and I just decided before the last three climbs let’s try to break the race and we did it.”
“I suspected after yesterday (the other teams) did a lot of work, they attacked us, they thought they could break us as a team. I thought they would show more today but in the end I guess they were affected from yesterday and the cold and the rain today.
“Now we are in yellow and we are prepared to defend because we showed we are a super strong team.”
Teuns’ win was the second in a row for Bahrain-Victorious after Matej Mohoric’s on Friday, and there was a double celebration with Wout Poels moving into the king of the mountains’ jersey.
“It’s super amazing,” said Teuns, who dedicated the win to his late grandfather. “Until now I had a difficult year, I had some goals but I never came close, so finally I can celebrate.”
Thomas, having been briefly distanced on the final climbs of Saturday’s stage, was among a number of victims of a frantic start to the day as the road ramped up immediately on the way out of Oyonnax.
With no breakaway able to establish itself, the pace was unrelenting, and the group of dropped riders quickly grew to 60. They would eventually ride in more than 35 minutes down, doing just enough to avoid the time cut.
“After a lot of hard work since January, to finish 35 minutes down with the sprinters was not really what I wanted,” Thomas said.
“It’s tough on the head as much as anything else. There’s been a lot of sacrifices. I got through it anyway. Tomorrow’s another day.”
Roglic had hung with the main group a little longer but soon accepted his fate, smiling to the crowds as he sat up to wait for the stragglers.
There is growing speculation that the Slovenian could now choose to leave the race on Monday’s rest day to refocus on the Olympics. He will not be alone in needing to recalibrate his targets after Pogacar’s display.