UAE Team Emirates rider Tadej Pogacar is all but confirmed as Tour de France champion for the second year in a row after coming through the Stage 20 time trial unscathed on Saturday.
The 22-year-old's domination of this year's race was never likely to be in danger on the roads through Bordeaux wine country, and though Jonas Vingegaard took 25 seconds out of the Slovenian's lead to strengthen his grip on second, Pogacar remains five minutes and 20 seconds in front going into Sunday’s parade into Paris.
Wout van Aert won the time trial, but defending champion Pogacar's solid ride means he need to only cross the Champs-Elysees finish line with the peloton in the 21st, and final, stage to retain the famous yellow jersey.
Pogacar won the Stage 5 time trial in the opening week but had no need to take the same risks here as he completed the defence of his title.
I'm so happy its coming to an end,” said Pogacar, admitting he was wiped out. “What a demanding three weeks it has been.
“Actually, [Saturday's stage] went fast, there was so much support on the course and I was enjoying every kilometre even though I was suffering. It was super hot but I was so happy when I crossed the line that I cannot describe it.
“I was going flat out but for sure it was totally different to Stage 5. There was much more adrenalin today. I did my best. I prepared pretty good but it was not in the legs. It was still a super performance and I’m super happy with the result.
“I cannot compare [the two titles]. They are really totally different. Like I said before, last year was something else and this is just different.”
Pogacar won three stages on his way to this dominant triumph in a manner reminiscent of former champions Alberto Contador and Chris Froome, strong in both the time-trials and the mountains.
He will also win the awards for best rider under-25 and the king of the mountains polka-dot jersey, a triple he also achieved on his winning debut last year.
Van Aert was victorious on Stage 20 after clocking a time of 35 minutes and 53 seconds over the 31 kilometres from Libourne, winning by 21 seconds from Kasper Asgreen to take his second stage of this year’s Tour after his victory over Mont Ventoux on Stage 11.
The day belonged to the Belgian rider and Jumbo-Visma, a team that came hoping to challenge Pogacar for yellow but who have recalibrated impressively since Primoz Roglic’s week one exit.
“Winning a Tour de France time trial has been one of the biggest objectives of my career and I have been really focusing on this day so I’m happy I can finish it off,” Van Aert said.
“The course suited me, it was rolling and much faster than [stage five] so it was more to my advantage. I think it was the perfect day.
“It’s been a really hard Tour de France for our team but we always fought through and in the end we’ve had three stage wins and we have Jonas in second in the general classification so it’s really an amazing result for a team with only four guys left. I’m really proud of how we fought.
“But if we want to win the Tour de France we need to stay on our bikes and finish the Tour with a full team.
“Tadej deserves his win, but I don't believe he is unbeatable.”
Van Aert also sent out a warning to Mark Cavendish who is targeting an all time record of 35 wins on Sunday.
“I'll be challenging for sure. I won't miss out. The Camps-Elysees sprint is a huge thing in the career of any rider,” said Van Aert.
Meanwhile, sprint specialist Andre Greipel has announced that this will be his final Tour he will be retiring at the end of the year.
The muscular German, nicknamed the Gorilla, has ridden every Tour since 2011, winning 11 stages.
“Tomorrow's stage will be definitely my last in the Tour de France,” Greipel said in a video posted on social media by his team the Israel Start Up Nation. “I am super happy with what everything I have achieved together with my teammates