Tour de France champion Tadej Pogacar surged through the snows to the lone mountain-top finish in the Tirreno-Adriatico on Saturday to wrest the race lead from Wout van Aert. The 148 kilometer stage from Terni ended with a ferocious battle between a group of elite riders up the 14.7 kilometer climb to Prati di Tivo.
The Slovenian held off a late pursuit by defending champion Simon Yates to edge the Briton by six seconds with Colombian Sergio Higuita leading the remnants of the group of contenders home 29 seconds back.
Pogacar, who rides for Team UAE, took over the race lead from Belgian Van Aert of Jumbo Visma, who limited the damage by finishing ninth, 45 seconds back, after a gritty ride.
“Today I had a battle with myself the last few Ks,” Pogacar said at the finish.
“Simon was coming close in the end, but I struggled to the finish. I did everything I could. It was a fast climb. It was a super climb.”
The long final ascent was marked by a string of attacks including jabs by the two Ineos former Tour de France winners Egan Bernal and Geraint Thomas.
Pogacar caught Welshman Thomas and then, with 5.6km to go, powered away alone.
“When I went on the attack, I tried to get rid of everyone,” said Pogacar.
“I tried to be alone and go my own tempo.”
Yates, of BikeExchange, finally gave chase, but like his brother Adam of Ineos, who finished second to Pogacar in the UAE Tour last month, could not quite match the Slovene.
The burly Van Aert, who at around 78 kilograms is less well suited to climbing than the wiry mountain men such as Pogacar, refused to be distracted by the sudden accelerations of his rivals. He slogged up the slope at an unwavering tempo as more natural climbers such as Colombian Bernal, Thomas and French world champion Julian Alaphilippe all cracked.
“I would have liked to hang on longer,” Van Aert said. “But Tadej started quite early and that was not in my favor.
The pressure was on me and I had to pace for myself. I think I did the best I could. Thirty-five seconds is a nice advantage for Tadej but there are three more stages.”
Bernal and Thomas crossed the line together 58 seconds after Pogacar. Pogacar took a 35-second lead over Van Aert in the overall standings with Higuita of Education First jumping to third on the same time.
“Every second is good,” said Pogacar. “But tomorrow is a super hard day, also a time trial in the end, I think it’s going to be really tight battle for the finish.”
Sunday’s 205km stage from Castellalto to Castelfidaro finishes with a dozen short, sharp hills.
The race ends on Tuesday with a 10.1km time trial, and although Pogacar won the Tour de France with a victory in a race against the clock, the short, flat course could favor Van Aert.
“The race is not over,” said Van Aert
STAGE 4 RESULTS
|1||POGAČAR Tadej||UAE-Team Emirates||3:51:24|
|2||YATES Simon||Team BikeExchange||0:06|
|3||HIGUITA Sergio||EF Education – Nippo||0:29|
|4||LANDA Mikel||Bahrain – Victorious||0:29|
|5||QUINTANA Nairo||Team Arkéa Samsic||0:31|
|6||ALMEIDA João||Deceuninck – Quick Step||0:35|
|7||FABBRO Matteo||BORA – hansgrohe||0:42|
|8||CARR Simon||EF Education – Nippo||0:42|
|9||VAN AERT Wout||Team Jumbo-Visma||0:45|
|10||FUGLSANG Jakob||Astana – Premier Tech||0:45|
|1||POGAČAR Tadej||UAE-Team Emirates||17:53:21|
|2||VAN AERT Wout||Team Jumbo-Visma||0:35|
|3||HIGUITA Sergio||EF Education – Nippo||0:35|
|4||LANDA Mikel||Bahrain – Victorious||0:38|
|5||QUINTANA Nairo||Team Arkéa Samsic||0:41|
|6||ALMEIDA João||Deceuninck – Quick Step||0:45|
|7||FUGLSANG Jakob||Astana – Premier Tech||0:55|
|8||CARR Simon||EF Education – Nippo||1:03|
|9||FABBRO Matteo||BORA – hansgrohe||1:12|
|10||THOMAS Geraint||INEOS Grenadiers||1:25|
RBA/AFP Photos: Bettini