Panache by Wiscot
Ordinarily, the last stage of the Tour de France into Paris on the famed cobbles of the Champs Elysees is a formality for the general classification riders. It’s a stage reserved for the sprinters after the photo-ops of the winners of the various jerseys. Sure, breakaways go but are inevitably pulled back to allow the fast men to compete for the prized victory. It was therefore quite surprising this year to see second-placed Tadej Pogacar jump off the front and create some serious daylight between himself and the bunch. He was over seven minutes behind maillot jaune-wearing Vingegaard and let’s be honest, he was never going to be allowed to stay away. It was a spectacular display of bravado and futility.
As crazy as Pogacar’s effort was, it was symptomatic of why he is beloved by cycling fans: he throws caution to the wind and rides with what the French would call “panache.” Don’t get me wrong, I like Vingegaard but Pogacar is by far the more exciting and dare I say it, versatile rider. Indeed, as soon as Jumbo-Visma hit the safety of the 3kms to go banner, they ambled home savoring their triumph – given the same time as stage winner Jordi Meeus despite there being measurable daylight between them. Rarely does the maillot jaune get involved in the sprint – at best you’ll get Wiggins leading out Cavendish across the Place de la Concorde, but that’s about it.
Unsurprisingly, Tour history offers an exemplary tale of last stage derring-do. Back in 1979 going into the final stage, Bernard Hinault was comfortably leading the Tour by 3:07 over second place Joop Zoetemelk. Together with the talented German Didi Thurau, the Dutchman tried attacking the Frenchman – to no avail. As the newly established “patron” of the peloton, Hinault then did what perhaps only Hinault would – resplendent in the yellow jersey he attacked. Only Zoetemelk was able to latch onto his back wheel. Then, with their teams controlling the peloton, the duo were allowed to ride off into the distance. When Hinault won the sprint by a bike length from his companion, the bunch were two-and-a-half minutes behind! The final result? Hinault won by 13:07 over Zoetemelk, who failed a dope test and was penalized ten minutes, but still retained second place. In third was Joaquin Agostinho who was a whopping 26:53 back. (This year, the entire top 10 finished faster than that and a similar penalty on Pogacar would have dropped him to ninth on general classification.)
It wasn’t just the maillot jaune Hinault won decisively, he won the maillot vert by 253 points to Thurau’s 157 and was second in the mountains classification to the wily Italian Giovanni Battaglin. I see Pogacar very much in the mold of Hinault. A born racer who rides with panache. Whether his palmares ever rival Hinault’s or not (I doubt it), it’s going to be fun to watch.