Tadej Pogacar won a second successive Tour de France on Sunday as Wout van Aert claimed the final stage on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.
Pogacar stole in at the 11th hour to win the 2020 edition, but this year he stamped his authority in the first week and will pull on the yellow jersey beneath the Arc de Triomphe as the undisputed champion aged just 22
However, for a 21-stage race, the Tour de France effectively finished when the course was still in single digits.
Less than a week into the 23-day gruel, Tadej Pogacar took the 27.2km stage five time-trial between Changé and Laval Espace Mayenne in 32 minutes.
The 22-year-old Slovenian, who had snatched the yellow jersey so dramatically at the penultimate time-trial during the 2020 race, had confirmed himself nearly a year later as a vital force in the race.
The victory moved him to within eight seconds of the leader Mathieu Van der Poel.
The 26-year-old Dutchman would hold on to the yellow jersey of the overall leader until the end of stage eight between Oyannax and Le Grand Bornand.
Van der Poel faltered during the stage and Pogacar’s time of three hours, 55 minutes and 30 seconds took him one minute and 48 seconds clear of Wout Van Aert who had moved up to second.
Just over a third of the way through a 3,400km race and the writing was on the wall. Pogacar and his his UAE Team Emirates minders have since then robustly managed the road to glory.
The boy wonder flexed his muscles in the mountains when he claimed back-to back stages to claim the polka dot jersey of the “king of the mountains”.
And after Sunday’s ceremonial procession between Chatou and Paris, Pogacar will for the second year in a row go onto the podium on the Champs Elysées to soak up the plaudits and accolades for a second successive triple: the white jersey as the best young rider, the polka dot vest and the most coveted of them all - the yellow jersey.
He is the first cyclist to win successive Tours since Chris Froome in 2015 and 2016 and will join a list of 20 men who have won multiple Tours since its inception in 1903.
Four cyclists, Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault, Miguel Indurain and Eddy Merckx jointly hold the record of five wins.
Merckx, 76, says Pogacar could join him and the troika in the pantheon. Pogacar though is more sanguine.
“I don't think about the record,” he said as he effectively confirmed his second Tour de France after the mountain stages.
“I just want to enjoy the moment. I don't think there is a Pogacar era. It's a whole generation that has emerged.”
Pogacar’s reluctance to grandstand appears sage. A Bernal era was proclaimed after the Colombian swept home in 2019 to become the youngest winner of the Tour de France since 1909.
But he limped out of the 2020 course and did not compete in 2021 to nurse problems with his back.
"We should see some great battles in the next decade with riders like Bernal, Van Aert, Remco Evenpoel, Van der Poe and Jonas Vingegaard,” Pogacar added.
That could be true. But he’s already two up on some of them. And he’s only going to get stronger.