Tadej Pogacar just “follow the bandwagon”. Easy. The Slovenian, probably tired of the white of the best youngster (under 25) worn since the start of this Tour de France 2022 in Copenhagen, thought he would wait until Friday and the arrival at the top of the Belles-Filles board (Haute- Saône) to go yellow. But when an opportunity passes in front of him, the Slovenian always raises his finger. In Longwy (Meurthe-et-Moselle), the double title holder scored a double blow: victory as a puncher in this 6th stage and taking power in the general classification.

But who is still surprised? Not his teammate, the Polish Rafal Majka. “Tadej is so strong. Yesterday he gave a demonstration on the cobblestones. But he is strong in the mountains, in the sprint, on the clock. Everywhere, “summarizes the UAE-Emirates team climber. Despite the smile, the features were drawn. Normal, after a stage swallowed at the very sustained average of 49 km / h.

“Today was very hard, it went very quickly, everyone was started in the final”, summarizes the leader of Groupama-FDJ, David Gaudu (3rd). In the last kilometer, the Breton had invited himself to a Slovenian convention on the arrival in bump. “I took the right wheel, that of [Primoz] Roglic who as usual launched 400 meters [from the finish]. Except that there was headwind and Pogacar exploded us by launching 250 meters. »

The 23-year-old runner had warned even before the big start, “if there is a chance, as soon as possible”, he would take back his precious. And whatever that means. “What comes with the yellow jersey, the responsibilities, the protocol ceremonies and the press conferences, are part of the whole thing. You never say “no” to the yellow jersey, “continued the nugget of UAE-Emirates who had only endorsed it last year on the evening of the 8th stage in Grand-Bornand (Haute-Savoie).

Crazy rhythm

For the Tour peloton, this Thursday was the longest day of this 109th edition. At least, on paper: almost 220 kilometers, between Binche, in Belgium, and Longwy. The day after a dusty and chaotic 5th stage on the cobblestones of the North, this Ardennes getaway with its three small listed difficulties – including two in the last 15 kilometers – served as a transition before hitting the head against the super board of Les Belles -Girls.

The kind of ideal ground to let the teammates of the contenders for the general classification (like Vegard Stake Laengen, Pogacar’s usual bodyguard) have a little fun and chase the good breakaway with the best fighters in the peloton, like Taco van der Hoorn and Toms Skujins or puncher Benoît Cosnefroy. “We knew there would be a battle to take the breakaway, we did almost an hour and a half full throttle, it was really very intense”, says the American Brandon McNulty, very valuable in the final of the stage for the new yellow jersey.

The person responsible for this crazy rhythm: Wout van Aert. Scalded by the “shitty day” the day before, the Belgian was obviously keen to spend a few more hours in yellow… Still, the instruction was clear on the side of the Jumbo-Visma: if you want to keep your jersey, you will have to manage on your own.

After a brief lull, Van Aert was therefore maneuvering to launch a new breakaway 137 kilometers from the finish. Three men in the lead and, something unheard of since the start of this Tour, without any moustachioed. Magnus Cort Nielsen (EF Education-EasyPost), who covered 534 of the 762 kilometers covered from the start in Copenhagen to Arenberg, did not stay warm in the heart of the peloton. The Dane had tried his luck at the start of the stage in a flight of ten riders. But the best climber’s polka dot jersey slipped before the start of the stage that he felt “a little tired”.

“At my house, he never does that”

It was therefore on another Dane, Jakob Fuglsang (Israel-Premier Tech), and an American, Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo), that the Belgian was able to count on to keep him company. Uncooperative or lucid about the relevance of this adventure, the first chose to slow down at kilometer 54. On the other hand, the second, he hung on a little longer. “I still don’t know what my specialty really is,” the Colorado native with Trumpist sympathies said on Tuesday. I try to be good everywhere: today I can help my leaders on the sprints, I hope I will be a good teammate on the cobbles, and I plan to try my luck on the climbs. On Thursday, he showed some adventurous skills.

But, with 30 kilometers left to go, Quinn Simmons grimaced and let an increasingly threatened Van Aert continue on his own. This rolling machine may well be advancing at around 50 km/h, helped by the wind, but there is no way to get rid of the peloton which has always remained at a reasonable distance from it. “I wondered at one point if we were going to take it back,” says a Pogacar respectful of this somewhat futile effort.

Exhausted and exhausted, Van Aert finished 103rd in the stage 7 min 28 behind the Slovenian after being swallowed up 11 kilometers from the finish. He consoles himself with the title of super combative and will finally be able to wear his beautiful green leader’s jersey in the points classification.

This last stand did not lack panache, the strategy on the other hand remains difficult to read. “If he doesn’t take the breakaway, Van Aert is not far from unbeatable on this type of finish. At home, he never does that, develops Jean-René Bernaudeau, the general manager of the Total Direct Energie team. Rather than trying to isolate Pogacar, [la Jumbo] seeks to win everything. They may be overkill, but you can see the result. There’s almost a moral to that. »

As for Pogacar, he sent a new message before attacking this “super board” cut for its qualities as a climber-puncher. “Tomorrow, it’s a new Tour that begins… We’ll see who will be able to play with him in front,” wonders David Gaudu (10th overall). So far, “Pogi” is only 4 seconds ahead of American Neilson Powless and 31 seconds ahead of Dane Jonas Vingegaard. For the moment…