I don’t think anyone, including Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič, knows how Primož lost the Tour de France in a time trial he started with a 57-second lead.
It’s not like we watched a TT machine trying to nail a climber who can’t spin a high gear for 60 minutes straight.
Before Saturday’s stage, we watched 2 guys going neck to neck for 3 weeks, chipping away at 3,484 clicks between Nice and Paris to close in on a career high they dreamed about for years.
Primož, he dreamed all yellow. Tadej, he never said what he wanted from this race. He kept telling us he’ll attack Roglič to the end and whatever happens, happens. This bravura coming from a 21-year-old kid who never raced Tour de France, who took it seriously? I didn’t.
Roglič in yellow with Pogačar second would have been a sensational story in its own right. No Slovenian had ever won the Tour. Never came anywhere near the podium even. And now, they’ve gone 1-2. A fairytale of a guy who started cycling about 10 years too late, rose to the top like a rocket, pulled the yellow jersey on and rode a perfect race all the way to Paris with his countryman landing on a podium from the first go before he turned 22.
Great story except it went one better.
On paper, what happened on Stage 20 should not have happened. On paper, we all knew Primož Roglič should have won that time trial and kept the yellow because he won time trials in Grand Tours before. Worst case scenario, a 20-second loss to Tadej. Maybe 40 if something went wrong. More drama but still in yellow. Climb or no climb, didn’t matter. He outclimbed Pogačar every time they fired shots at each other. He wore the leader’s jersey and that counts as the ace of spades in mind games.
He had it in the bag and then he didn’t.
As my first coach used to say every time I lost a race I should have won: There are at least 10 guys in every race with legs and motors as good as yours but only 1 with the mindset of a winner. He wins and you lose.
I never try to predict a winner of a pro bike race. Not counting the reigns of Miguel Induráin and Lance Armstrong, and maybe Chris Froome, predicting a Tour winner is a vain game. But, hours before Stage 15, the stage where Egan Bernal cracked and lost 7 minutes, I posted these 2 lines on Twitter:
Lucky strike? No, not entirely anyway. I formed this view the moment Bernal quit Critérium du Dauphiné saying his back hurt. Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t but watching him from my couch on the other side of the world, he didn’t look like a winner to me. He looked, to me at least, like a guy who gave up the idea of winning his second Tour before it started.
Maybe, and I don’t know that, just guessing, maybe winning the Tour last year, without taking anything from it, maybe it just fell into his hands. He was the best, for sure, but he also had a strong teammate covering his back, the raging Alaphilippe with no real chance of staying in yellow all the way to Paris and, outside of that, no one in a position to derail either him or Thomas from winning the Tour. Nothing easy about it but that’s how it went down.
This year, Dave Brailsford ditched both Thomas and Froome from the lineup and placed all bets on Bernal alone. And then Jumbo-Visma showed their cards. They held Royal Flush in their hand. At the Dauphiné table that is.
Maybe it had done Bernal’s head in. I don’t know that but it looked like it did. He wasn’t ready. Didn’t have that winner mindset and when you don’t, legs and motor alone won’t do the job.
And Primož Roglič, the Saturday’s fiasco, the loss of 1 minute and 56 seconds in a race he proved before he can win from anyone, he lost it in his head either before or during the time trial.
I can’t find any other explanation.