(Reuters) - Tadej Pogacar was left as shocked as fans, pundits and fellow riders after pulling off one of the biggest upsets in Tour de France annals when he claimed the overall lead by stunning odds-on favourite Primoz Roglic in Saturday’s final time trial.
The 21-year-old Slovenian Pogacar started the decisive day second overall, 57 seconds behind his compatriot, and it seemed unthinkable that he could achieve what he did over 36.2 km with a 5.9-km final climb at an average gradient of 8.5%.
Yet Pogacar, who is set to become the youngest race winner since 1904, beat Roglic by 1:56 to open a 59-second gap ahead of Sunday’s largely processional ride into Paris.
“This is just incredible. In the morning, I was just happy to be in second place but then I had a really good day and I’m now just starting to realise that I’m in yellow,” Pogacar told a news conference.
“Going into the third week of a grand tour I always feel good. Some days a bit worse, some days a bit better. I guess my genetics are really good. I have to thank my parents probably.”
Barring a crash on Sunday, he will hold the yellow jersey, the white jersey for the best Under-25 rider in the race and the polka dot jersey for the mountains classification after having won three stages.
“I was never thinking of the yellow jersey because it’s the biggest race in the world,” he said.
Yet his UAE Emirates team believed in Pogacar more than he did.
“They had confidence in me and the team was prepared, they knew that I could do it,” he said.
“For myself, I was thinking about the second place after the Col de la Loze on Wednesday. That day, I was a solid second and I wanted to secure second place.”
Pogacar was not even born when American Greg LeMond pulled off a similar upset in 1989 by overturning a 50-second deficit to win the Tour by just eight seconds from France’s Laurent Fignon in the final time trial.
“I started watching the Tour around 2009-10. Back then I didn’t really know what it was all about,” said Pogacar.
“I was cheering for (Alberto) Contador, (Andy) Schleck, guys like this. It was training and then TV all day. Now I’m here and I’m just so happy to be in yellow.”
Pogacar’s triumphant season is not finished yet as he heads as a marked man to the world championships next week before riding the Ardennes classics, and possibly the Flanders classics, towards the end of the rescheduled season.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; editing by Ian Chadband
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