A Eddy56 Merckx called it the ‘Cannibal’ because devoured all his rivals, because not forgive his opponents and playing ludo. He fought for all the trophies no matter how insignificant they seemed. In the first of his five victorious Tours, in 1969, he left second overall, Roger Pingeon, at 17.54 minutes. He was 24 years old at the time, two years older than Tadej Pogacar , willing to follow 52 years later the path of the best runner in history.
The victory achieved on Wednesday at Col del Portet was joined on Thursday by the victory in Luz Ardiden, the young temple in the Pyrenees, after the previous passage through a Tourmalet where Pogacar confessed that he had suffered. Well thank goodness! The second overall, Jonas Vingegaard , practically unknown until this Tour, is already almost six minutes away, an advantage that he can extend tomorrow in the Saint Émilion time trial, land of wines, if he meets the forecasts and achieves victory in a round French that is absolutely subject to its dominance.
Pogacar is the new ‘Cannibal’. No one can beat him, even if he fills himself with courage and attacks him 800 meters from the top of Luz Ardiden, just as Enric Mas did .
Pogacar were the Alps and his have been the Pyrenees. And if he did not win the two alpine stages, it was because the first one ended after a descent and because Ben O’Connor fled in Tignes to surprise, place himself among the top five and prevent Mas, except for a surprise in the ‘chrono’, to finish in the ‘top 5’ of the race.
The image of the stage, after lowering the Tourmalet and starting the ascent to Luz Ardiden, was given by Wout Poels , now in Bahrain, the team that spent a good part of the previous night awake because they were registered by the Gendarmerie, the old men ghosts of this sport.
Poels, who gave his best cycling years as Chris Froome’s gregarious , wore the polka dot jersey, the one that identifies the best climber. Poels fought not to be cut off, he squeezed himself not to lose the wheel of the group of figures from which Ineos was pulling for nothing, because the triumph of Richard Carapaz was another impossible.
Poels knew that if Pogacar won the stage, he would snatch his best climber jersey. But he cut himself off and did not avoid what was announced, which in fact the Slovenian prodigy wanted, apart from winning the stage. He wanted that jersey, even if someone else, Poels in this case, borrowed it as far as Paris. And he wanted, as he did in 2020, to get on the podium of the Champs-Élysées with all possible jerseys.
yellow, white, which is in danger in 2023 because he will already be 25 years old, and the polka dot as king of the mountain. And if he does not also have the green Mark Cavendish jersey, it is because he does not enter the sprints to fight for points with the sprinters.
There was nothing to do at the Portet and neither at Luz Ardiden. He broke the race when he faced him, at 3.3 kilometers. He played with Vingegaard and Carapaz to the finish with the pleasant company of a guest named Mas , “in my place”, as he said after arriving fourth and being the only one who at least dared to attack Pogacar . Too bad about the Mallorcan’s crises at Ventoux and Portet because, otherwise, he would have had the option of fighting for the podium, which is not the same as for the Tour, which he so longed for.
So at 800 meters Mas attacked and even had a few moments of glory to think that he could not only win the stage but also defeat Pogacar. Until the Slovenian phenomenon dropped a pinion, became Merckx , put on the ‘Cannibal’ mask, ate the Balearic runner and looked for the path of glory to score victory in Luz Ardiden without any discussion.
“I only have 50% of the Tour won because there are three stages left,” Pogacar said without irony. They even asked him if his final triumph was in jeopardy if he failed in the time trial, as happened to Primoz Roglic last year. “With six minutes? It’s a long time,” he questioned. It is impossible. In 2020, the oldest Slovenian barely had to cut a minute. And it is that, in addition, who did it was Pogacar . Any other question?