PARIS - Tadej Pogacar of Slovenia became the Tour de France’s youngest winner in a century Sunday — in a race backdropped by the coronavirus pandemic, injuries and criticism of the race’s environmental impact.
Slovenia’s Tadej Pogacar from Team UAE Emirates, coasted to fame in the French capital, as riders made final laps around the Champs Elysees before a sizably downsized, mask-wearing crowd. Coronavirus restrictions limited fan numbers to just 5,000.
Pogacar, who celebrates his 22nd birthday Monday, becomes Slovenia’s first Tour winner. Besides the yellow jersey of the winner, he also snagged the Tour’s white and polka dot jerseys for best young rider and best mountain rider, respectively.
Ireland’s Sam Bennett won the green jersey for the points classification.
Pogacar’s win was cemented Saturday in a spectacular turnaround that saw countryman and former front-runner Primoz Roglic perform poorly during a final climb. Pogacar echoed the shock victory.
"I think I'm dreaming, that's all. I really don't know what to say. Unbelievable."
The surprise turnaround added to a roller-coaster Tour that almost didn’t happen. Normally taking place in July, the race was postponed because of coronavirus until late August. Rebounding coronavirus cases here sparked fears it would end early.France’s own hopes for a win were dashed, especially with the fall of hopeful Romain Bardet of team AG2R La Mondiale.
AG2R team doctor Eric Bouvat said besides handling rider injuries, respecting coronavirus regulations proved tricky but manageable. Worries the smaller crowds would make riders less motivated to perform did not pan out.
There was other drama. Lyon’s Greens party mayor Gregory Doucet criticized the Tour as polluting and overly macho.
But that didn’t stop the mayor from awarding the sprint winner’s jersey to Ireland’s Bennett during the Lyon stage of the Tour — which was appropriately colored green.