Tadej Pogacar seized control of the Tour de France with victory in the stage five time trial as Geraint Thomas and Primoz Roglic battled through the pain barrier to limit their time losses.
Pogacar, who dramatically rode into yellow in the stage 20 time trial last September, could not quite repeat the feat as Mathieu Van Der Poel put in the time trial of his life to retain the leader’s jersey by eight seconds.
But Pogacar’s victory on the day – by 19 seconds from European time trial champion Stefan Kung – was a major statement less than a week into his title defence.
The UAE Team Emirates rider completed the rolling 27km course between Change and Laval in a time of 32 minutes flat, with the main favourites grateful that rain from earlier in the afternoon had cleared by the time they started.
Having been one of the few overall contenders to have avoided major trouble during a bruising few days in Brittany, the Slovenian now has a significant advantage over his rivals.
But Roglic, heavily bandaged from his stage three crash, looked strong as he clocked the seventh fastest time on the day, moving back up into the top 10 overall as a result – though he is one minute and 40 down on Pogacar.
Thomas, strapped up after dislocating his shoulder on Monday, finished 16th on the day, conceding 78 seconds to Pogacar but moving up six places to 12th overall.
“Obviously I didn’t feel 100 per cent but I don’t want to bang on about that, I tried to do what I could and it wasn’t enough really…
“I didn’t know what to expect. I woke up this morning and felt terrible but once I got going and loosened up a bit it was better, but it’s just one of those things. You crack on and deal with it and keep fighting.”
It was arguably the ideal scenario for Pogacar, who would not have been sorry to see Van Der Poel retain yellow against the expectations of everyone – including the Dutchman himself.
That will keep the demands of defending the jersey off UAE Team Emirates for a few more days at least, with a sprint finish expected on Thursday in Chatearoux – where stage four winner Mark Cavendish will dream of a repeat of his first Tour stage victory back in 2008.
“Today was a really good day for me,” Pogacar said. “I didn’t do any mistakes, it was perfect weather for me. Sadly some guys had wet roads but luckily I had perfect conditions and also the temperature was perfect.
“The goal was to not lose time but I gained time so I’m super happy and just excited for the whole Tour.”
Julian Alaphilippe could not challenge Pogacar for the stage win, but he remains the closest of the overall contenders, now fourth, 48 seconds down.
Thomas’ Ineos Grenadiers team-mate Richard Carapaz slipped six places to ninth, just four seconds ahead of Roglic and 10 up on Thomas.
Chris Froome, whose time trialling prowess helped power him to his four Tour victories, ticked off another significant day in his long road back from his 2019 crash – not to mention an opening day spill – even as he finished more than four minutes down in 121st.
“I was looking to push and open up a little bit,” the Israel Start-Up Nation rider said. “It was not an all-out effort, I probably gave that 85 per cent but I’m feeling alright and starting to feel the side I crashed on on the first day is starting to work again now.
“I’m certainly heading in the right direction.”