Tadej Pogacar won 2020 Tour de France on the eve of his 22nd birthday, becoming the second-youngest winner of the 117-year-old race.
With a yellow face mask to match the race winner’s yellow jersey, Pogacar stood atop the podium backlit by the pink hues of dusk, transformed from promising prodigy into cycling superstar, the youngest winner since World War II and the first from Slovenia. While the mask hid his smiles, the creases around his eyes gave them away.
”This is just the top of the top,” he said. ”It’s been an amazing three-week adventure.”
His victory was remarkable, too, for the way in which he sealed it: at the last possible moment, on the penultimate stage before Sunday’s finish on Paris’ Champs-Elysees. During the cycling marathon over all five of France’s mountain ranges and 3,482 punishing kilometers, Pogacar held the race lead and the iconic yellow jersey for just one stage – the last and most important one into Paris, with a yellow bike to match.
Sam Bennett won the prestigious final sprint on the Champs-Elysees, giving him his second stage win at this Tour. He also won the race’s green jersey, awarded for picking up the most points in sprints during and at the finish of stages.
With jets trailing plumes of red, white and blue smoke above the riders as they raced through Paris, on the Champs-Elysees lined with French tricolor flags, the Tour was also celebrating a victory – over the coronavirus.
When the Tour, delayed because of the epidemic from its usual spot in July, left the start town of Nice three weeks ago, it was unsure that enough riders would be able to stay virus-free for the race to reach Paris.
But none of the 176 starters, or 146 finishers, tested positive in multiple batteries of tests, validating the hermetic bubble of measures to shield them from infection.
Roadside fans still cheered them on, mostly respecting riders’ pleas that they wear face masks, but were kept well away at stage starts and finishes.
The only COVID-19 positives touched a handful of team employees and the race director, even as infection numbers soared across the country.
By conquering the Tour on his first attempt, Pogacar joined an elite club of rookie winners that includes, among others, the great Eddy Merckx, who ended up winning five. Pogacar unseated Egan Bernal, who was 22 when he won last year, as the Tour’s youngest champion since World War II. And he become the race’s second-youngest winner ever, behind only Henri Cornet, who was just shy of 20 when he was crowned in 1904.
Sam Bennett rondt het werk knap af en zet zijn groene trui extra in de verf pic.twitter.com/gyqci6sQu8
— Sporza 🚴 (@sporza_koers) September 20, 2020