Tadej Pogacar emerged as the foremost name in the world of cycling as capped a brilliant three weeks at the Tour de France by claiming the overall yellow jersey in Paris on Sunday.
The UAE Team Emirates rider had proven his mettle last season when he won the title. And this time round, he dominated the race as defending champion, claiming a total of three stage wins.
Pogacar had become the youngest double winner of the race — aged just 22.
Last year, Pogacar took the overall lead only on the final time trial. But this time, the Slovenian was the favourite and he performed like on, even though he benefited from his main rival Primoz Roglic pulling out before the eighth stage following a crash earlier in the race.
“I am super happy. I couldn’t have done this without the support from my teammates. They’ve been fantastic this Tour and I am very proud to be a part of such a great team,” Pogacar said. He carried a lead of five minutes 20 seconds into Sunday's largely processional final 21st stage.
“The Tour this year has been a little different with more time in the yellow jersey and more media commitments, but it was largely the same when I was riding.
“Every day I gave it full gas and gave it my all. I couldn’t have given any more. I have always been confident in my ability and have stayed focused on the Tour. Right now, I am staying relaxed and just want to enjoy the moment.”
Pogacar got the better of his rivals during the first week of crash-filled racing. He stamped his authority on the race in the first time trial in Laval and took the yellow jersey in the Alps. He reigned supreme in the Pyrenees with two consecutive stage wins, and did not need to go all out towards the closing stages of the race.
The Slovenian thus showed why he is one of the highest paid cyclists in the world with stage wins on three grand tours — three each on the 2019 Vuelta a Espana, and two consecutive Tours.
There will, however, be no time to relax and enjoy for Pogacar as he will be flying to Tokyo for the Olympics road race on Sunday night, barely a few hours after crossing the finish line in Paris.
“Tokyo is coming really fast, there's no time to recover especially because it's super hot and humid in Japan right now,” said Pogacar.
“I'm going there for a new experience. I'll start the race with a positive mindset. I'm super motivated because it's the Olympics, an experience that comes only every four years.”
The sky is now the limit for Pogacar, with the UAE Team Emirates rider given the seal of approval from the man widely considered the greatest in the sport — 77-year-old Eddy Merckx, known as the 'Cannibal' because of his hunger.
“Yes, maybe he is the new Cannibal,” Merckx had said at the end of stage 19.
Meanwhile, Wout Van Aert denied Mark Cavendish another piece of Tour de France history as the Belgian won stage 21.
Cavendish was seeking his fifth stage victory of this Tour which would have moved him clear of Merckx as the winner of a record 35.
But it was not to be as the Manxman got squeezed out on the run to the line and Merckx's compatriot took his third stage win of this Tour.
Cavendish had to check his sprint more than once as he struggled to find a gap before coming in third behind Van Aert and Jasper Philipsen.