Stunning Pogacar claims maiden Tour title in anti-climatic finale

Cycling - Tour de France - Stage 21 - Mantes-la-Jolie to Paris Champs-Elysees - France - September 20, 2020. UAE Team Emirates rider Tadej Pogacar of Slovenia, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, in action in the peloton. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe
Cycling - Tour de France - Stage 21 - Mantes-la-Jolie to Paris Champs-Elysees - France - September 20, 2020. UAE Team Emirates rider Tadej Pogacar of Slovenia, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, in action in the peloton. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

PARIS, September 22 (Reuters): Tadej Pogacar became the first Slovenian to win the Tour de France after he retained the yellow jersey in the 21st stage on Sunday, a day after he pulled off a major coup to take the overall lead.

While Sam Bennett won the final stage, the day belonged to Team UAE Emirates rider Pogacar, who will celebrate his 22nd birthday on Monday and is the youngest man to win the race since Henri Cornet in 1904.

Pogacar, who claimed the yellow jersey from a stunned Primoz Roglic with a monumental performance in Saturday's time trial, also won the white jersey for the best Under-25 rider and the polka dot jersey for the mountains classification.

Roglic ended up second, 59 seconds behind, with Australian Richie Porte taking third place, 3:30 off the pace.

"This is an incredible feeling, standing here in Paris on the top of the podium. It was an amazing three weeks, an incredible journey," said Pogacar after the first one-two for one country since Bradley Wiggins finished ahead of fellow Briton Chris Froome in 2012.

"I want to thank all those who made it happen. It was three memorable weeks on the French roads, with incredible crowds. I won't find the words to express my feelings."

Pogacar also won three stages in one of the most brilliant individual performances in recent Tour history, leaving Roglic's dominant Jumbo-Visma team wondering what went wrong.

"We didn't see it coming," said Roglic's team mate and former Tour runner-up Tom Dumoulin.

Bennett became the first Irishman since Sean Kelly in 1989 to win the green jersey for the points classification, ahead of Peter Sagan who was looking to claim it for a record-extending eighth time.

Bennett was the strongest at the end of the 122-km ride from Mantes-la Jolie on Sunday, beating world champion Mads Pedersen, with Sagan coming home third.

Swiss Marc Hirschi, the former Under-23 world champion was voted the most aggressive on the race after notably taking a brilliant win in the longest stage of the 107th edition.

Ineos-Grenadiers had a Tour to forget as defending champion Egan Bernal dropped out of contention in the Jura stage to the Grand Colombier, pulling out a few days later with back pains.

They recovered some pride later on, however, as Michal Kwiatkowski, their unsung hero for five years, claimed an emotional stage win -- although that was certainly not enough for a team who had won seven of the previous eight editions.

It was an anti-climatic finale on the Champs-Elysees as only 5,000 fans were allowed on the famous avenue as a precaution against the coronavirus.

France reported 13,498 new confirmed COVID-19 cases over the previous 24 hours on Saturday, setting another record in daily additional infections since the start of the epidemic.

Reaching the Champs-Elysees was, however, a relief for organisers, who had imposed strict sanitary rules to protect the race 'bubble'.

The bubble did not burst as only four team staff members tested positive and were removed from the race, preventing a spread that could have stopped the Tour.

No rider tested positive.

Factbox: Tour de France champion Tadej Pogacar

Born: Sept. 21, 1998

Grand Tour titles (1): Tour de France 2020

EARLY CAREER

* Coached by former world road race bronze medallist and fellow Slovenian Andrej Hauptman

* In 2016, he takes third place in the European championships' road race

* 2018 is Pogacar's breakthrough year. He wins the Tour de l'Avenir, a stage race for young riders often seen as a springboard for the Tour de France. He also won the mountains classification in that race.

GRAND TOUR DEBUT

* In 2019, Pogacar becomes the youngest winner of the Tour of California

* He also wins the Tour of Algarve

* On his grand tour debut, Pogacar wins three stages at the Vuelta a Espana to finish third overall behind Primoz Roglic and Alejandro Valverde

* In 2020, he gears up for the Tour de France by finishing fourth in the Criterium du Dauphine

* On the Tour de France, the Slovenian champion claims the overall lead on the penultimate day, overturning a 57-second deficit to leapfrog Roglic.

STATISTICS

* Pogacar is the youngest rider to win the Tour de France since Henri Cornet in 1904, the second youngest ever

* He is the first rider to win on his Tour debut since France's Laurent Fignon in 1983

* He is the first rider since Eddy Merckx in 1969 to hold three distinctive jerseys (yellow, white for the best Under-25, polka dot for the mountains classification). Merckx had won the mountains classification, yellow jersey and green jersey for the points classification

* He is the first rider to snatch the yellow jersey on the penultimate day since Cadel Evans in 2011.