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The Pog and Rog show: Felix Lowe on the 2020 Tour de France

Felix Lowe
9 Oct 2020

You wait for years for a Slovenian to come along, then suddenly there are two in succession. Felix Lowe on a Tour for the ages

Photography: Chris Auld

Many of us predicted a Slovenian would stand atop the podium in Paris, but hands up who picked the right one?

The 2020 Tour de France was billed as a race between the super-teams of Ineos Grenadiers and Jumbo-Visma, but as defending champion Egan Bernal crumbled and Primož Roglič imploded at the death, UAE Team Emirates rode away with the spoils.

In a heist worthy of Butch Cassidy, swashbuckling debutant Tadej Pogačar secured the white jersey early on before pilfering the polka dots and ultimately yanking yellow from his compatriot’s shoulders in a final time-trial that had echoes of LeMond vs Fignon – all of it just two days before his 22nd birthday.

That meant the UAE team bookended their Tour with unlikely yellow jerseys, thanks to Alexander Kristoff delivering in Nice on Stage 1. And to think Fabio Aru was initially their designated leader…

Standing alongside the youngest Tour winner since 1904 was none other than – no, your eyes were not deceiving you – Richie Porte, the veteran Australian finally taking that elusive podium spot at a Grand Tour. How Ineos could have done with their old hand to steady their sinking ship, eh?

Porte and Kristoff’s achievements went against the current of a Tour that favoured the young over the old. The race represented not simply a changing of the Grenadier guards but a wholesale shuffling of the pack. It was certainly the first Grand Tour to reduce Alejandro Valverde to an anachronistic footnote – the 40-year-old Spaniard never once finished higher than 10th in a stage.

Fourteen of the 21 stages were won by riders making their Tour debuts, with Roglič, Kristoff and Michal Kwiatkowski the only victors in their thirties.

Marc Hirschi’s displays were highlights, with the Swiss tyro bouncing back from two near-misses to make it third time lucky. Hirschi’s Danish teammate Søren Kragh Andersen twice soloed to glory to cap a memorable Tour for Team Sunweb.

Bernal’s withdrawal ensured that Dave Brailsford leaving out his former winners backfired, but this was not the only era-ending note in the race. Peter Sagan was a shadow of his former self, the Slovakian’s green jersey hegemony being ended by his former understudy at Bora-Hansgrohe.

Sam Bennett’s first Tour stage win reduced him to tears, but things only got better for the Deceuninck-QuickStep sprinter as he consolidated his grip on green all the way to Paris before capping it with an emotional win on the Champs-Élysées, where he joined Sean Kelly in Ireland’s hall of fame.

As for Sagan, the long wait for any kind of triumph now stretches back to last year’s Tour. The triple World Champion is starting to look like a disposable analogue camera in an era of smartphone shooters. He needs a win as much as Roglič needs a new helmet.

It was a sad end for Roglič’s – and Jumbo-Visma’s – Tour, a bit like Bayern Munich being unpicked by Manchester United in injury time in the 1999 Champions League final. Perhaps he should have exploited his team’s domination a bit more instead of relying on his own personal reserves so deep into the race.

If such an exciting finale was what corona-recovering Tour director Christian Prudhomme always wanted, he would probably have traded it for a better overall showing from local boy Thibaut Pinot, whose name daubed across the road of the race’s final climb looked rather incongruous.

Holding up the French end, Julian Alaphilippe won a stage and wore yellow, while Nans Peters was among the many debutant stage winners. But with no French riders in the final top 10, the wait for a home winner will stretch into a 37th year.

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