Tadej Pogačar: “I’m gone. I’m dead”

Slovenian is blown away in the Tour de France mountains as Vingegaard puts major time into his final rival

Clock07:05, Wednesday 19th July 2023
Tadej Pogačar’s Tour de France challenge ended on stage 17 in the mountains

© Velo Collection (TDW) / Getty Images

Tadej Pogačar’s Tour de France challenge ended on stage 17 in the mountains

This year’s Tour de France has created a catalogue of memories, from daring attacks in the mountains to equal amounts of sprinters’ delight and disappointment, but when the sun goes down and the dust settles in Paris on Sunday only one lasting moment will encapsulate the 2023 edition of the Tour de France. 

For almost the entirety of this year’s race, the incorporation of race radios in the live broadcast has offered little in the way of insight into the inner sanctums of pro cycling. But on stage 17, as the air of competition for the yellow jersey was brutally drained from this year’s race, the radio within UAE Team Emirates’ car crackled into life with four haunting words coming from a broken Tadej Pogačar: “I’m gone, I’m dead.” 

This was the moment the 2023 Tour de France was both won and lost.

Those words from Pogačar effectively confirmed the end of his Tour de France challenge. After a bruising encounter in the stage 16 time trial, the Slovenian was put to the sword by his Danish rival, Jonas Vingegaard on the slopes of the infamous Col de la Loze.

In the end, it wasn’t even an attack that distanced Pogačar. Instead it was the relentless pace-setting from the ever-fresh and ever-aggressive Jumbo-Visma squad as they set about controlling a searing day in the mountains. A crash for Pogačar in the early kilometres of the stage certainly didn't help but he gamely hung on over the early climbs with faint hopes of a final assault on the yellow jersey.

That scenario never came and, with 15km to go on the Col de la Loze, Pogačar gave the first real hints of what was to come. Concerns were initially raised when he slipped from Vingegaard’s wheel, unable to even match the pace set by the Jumbo domestiques. A few pedal strokes later and the Slovenian was sitting up, first arching his back to stretch before unzipping his jersey to the waist and looking visibly dishevelled. Soon, and almost inevitably, Pogačar began to slip back and out of the yellow jersey group with only a tentative Marc Soler for company.

The time gap to Vingegaard initially held at 20 seconds, and then a minute, but once the Dane threw caution to the wind with a blistering set of accelerations the gap quickly extended to several minutes.

Vingegaard picked up teammates throughout the climb,with turns from Tiesj Benoot and Wilco Kelderman before a solo mission that would eventually seal him fourth on the stage behind victor Felix Gall (AG2R Citroën). More importantly, Pogačar would crawl over the line almost five minutes down on the yellow jersey and slip to 7:35 overall. In the space of two days the gap between first and second flexed from a mere ten seconds to an unbridgeable and almost unimaginable margin.

“I tried to eat as much as possible but nothing went to my legs. Everything just stayed in my stomach. I was really empty after three and half hours and at the bottom of the climb. Without the great support I thought I might lose the podium but I was still fighting with Marc to the finish,” Pogačar said.

“It wasn't a good today. Even the stage to Granon last year, I was much better than today. Today was one of the worst days of my life on the bike. In the end I was fighting and Marc pushed to my limit. I hope to recover and we go for another stage on stage 20 if we have good legs.”

At the line, while Jumbo and Vingegaard celebrated an almost-certain yellow jersey in Paris, the white jersey was engulfed by his supportive teammates. Soon after, as he waited for the podium processions to begin, Pogačar could be seen alone, staring at the floor with the knowledge of a certain Tour defeat hanging over him.

He bravely smiled through it when he made his way onto the podium to collect yet another white jersey, even managing a wink to the crowd as he waved, but for the Slovenian this Tour challenge is over and the questions over how he can bounce back next year will start in earnest.

Most pressing of all will be whether his Tour de France winning dreams have simply ‘gone’ for 2023 or are ‘dead’ forever.

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