Tadej Pogacar looked around briefly, saw no one on his rear wheel and roared his delight. With a phenomenal start on the final climb, the defending champion not only won the 220 kilometer longest stage of the 109th Tour de France, but also stormed into the yellow jersey. The 23-year-old dominator thus replaced Belgian Wout van Aert, who had kept the peloton in suspense on the extremely fast stage with a nearly 140-kilometer escape.

“It’s incredible that I have the yellow jersey. I did not expect that. I just prepared for the sprint, started and then nobody came,” said Pogacar, adding: “It wasn’t a real sprint in the end. I had good legs and I’m happy to have won. Everything else is a bonus.” His teammate Rafal Majka emphasized: “It was important that Tadej showed today how strong he is and shot down the stage.”

The competition was impressed too. Second-placed Neilson Powless, four seconds behind, said: “Man against man, Tadej is simply the strongest driver in the world.” Ex-German champion Maximilian Schachmann expressed a similar view: “Rafal Majka gave me an insight into his numbers. A lot has to happen for him not to win.”

Last year’s second Jonas Vingegaard is third, 31 seconds behind. The German team Bora-hansgrohe experienced a moment of shock when captain Alexander Vlasow fell about eight kilometers from the finish. In the end, the Russian lost just five seconds to Pogacar and is seventh overall, 52 seconds back. “If that was all our bad luck on the tour, then that’s tolerable. It shouldn’t be more,” said sports director Rolf Aldag.

In the first 60 kilometers through Belgium it was not possible to establish a breakaway group. Then leader van Aert tried it himself after 72 kilometers and was able to pull away with the Dane Jakob Fuglsang and the American Quinn Simmons.

However, the trio was not left out for more than three and a half minutes. Van Aert’s escape kept the pace consistently high. After three hours of racing, the average was 50.2 km/h. “It was amazing what he did. It was really with the crowbar,” said Schachmann.

Despite the work of several teams, it was only eleven kilometers before the finish line that Van Aert was able to catch up. He had long since shaken off his two companions. The performance of the 27-year-old was once again impressive. It was only on Wednesday that he practically single-handedly drove his captain Vingegaard back up the cobblestone stage and ensured that the Dane lost just 13 seconds to dominator Tadej Pogacar.

After the longest stage, the favorites have to show their form at the first mountain finish on Friday. The seven-kilometer climb to La Super Planche de Belles Filles is extremely tough, especially at the end. There are gradients of 20 and 24 percent, and the road is partly unpaved. The Planche is actually a ski slope, discovered by the tour organizers ten years ago and included in the program for the first time.

Since then, the ascent in the Vosges has been something of the destiny of the tour. Chris Froome (2012), Vincenzo Nibali (2014) and Tadej Pogacar (2020) won there and ended up winning the tour. Fabio Aru (2017) and Dylan Teuns (2019) did not succeed despite their success on the planche.