Pogacar wins COVID-defying Tour de France
PARIS, France (AP):
In a stunning performance for the ages, Tour de France rookie Tadej Pogacar won cycling’s showpiece race yesterday on the eve of his 22nd birthday, becoming the second-youngest winner of the 117-year-old event that this year braved, and overcame, France’s worsening COVID-19 epidemic.
With a yellow face mask to match the race winner’s yellow jersey, Pogacar stood atop the podium backlit by the pink hues of dusk, transformed from promising prodigy into cycling superstar, the youngest winner since World War II and the first from Slovenia. While the mask hid his smiles, the creases around his eyes gave them away.
“This is just the top of the top,” he said. “It’s been an amazing three-week adventure.”
His victory was remarkable, too, for the way in which he sealed it: at the last possible moment, on the penultimate stage before yesterday’s finish on Paris’ Champs-Elysees. During the cycling marathon over all five of France’s mountain ranges and 3,482 punishing kilometres (2,164 miles), Pogacar held the race lead and the iconic yellow jersey for just one stage, the last and most important one into Paris, with a yellow bike to match.
Pogacar KO’d the race and Slovenian countryman Primoz Roglic by snatching away the jersey that he’d worn for 11 days, in a high-drama time trial Saturday.
Their 1-2 is the first for one country since British riders Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome also took the top spots at the 2012 Tour. Australian Richie Porte rounded out this year’s podium, at age 35, after his brilliant time trial that hoisted him from fourth to third overall.
Irish rider Sam Bennett won the prestigious final sprint on the Champs-Elysees, giving him his second stage win at this Tour. He also won the race’s green jersey, awarded for picking up the most points in sprints during and at the finish of stages.
With jets trailing plumes of red, white and blue smoke above the riders as they raced through Paris, on the Champs-Elysees lined with French tricolor flags, the Tour was also celebrating a victory over the coronavirus.
When the Tour, delayed because of the epidemic from its usual spot in July, left the start town of Nice three weeks ago, it was unsure that enough riders would be able to stay virus-free for the race to reach Paris.
But none of the 176 starters, or 146 finishers, tested positive in multiple batteries of tests, validating the hermetic bubble of measures to shield them from infection.
Roadside fans still cheered them on, mostly respecting riders’ pleas that they wear face masks, but were kept well away at stage starts and finishes.
The only COVID-19 positives touched a handful of team employees and the race director, even as infection numbers soared across the country.