Roglič and Pogačar were part of the rapidly diminishing peloton that ascended the early slopes of the Col de la Loze, with a Pogačar surge off the back of teammate's David de la Cruz's pace-making forming the initial splits of the top contenders. While riders like Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First) and Mikel Landa (Bahrain McLaren) were immediately distanced, the elite climbers including Roglič stuck close.
A key moment came when Sep Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) was allowed to ride up the road by Roglič, with eventual stage winner Miguel Angel Lopez jumping across to the lanky climber before forging away solo. Kuss helped consolidate an attack by Roglič, which Pogačar was only able to just follow before being dropped on a steep section filled with fans.
Roglič and Pogačar were stuck in a grinding battle to the top from there, and while Lopez claimed the ultimate stage honours, Roglič was very much a winner as well as he extended his buffer in yellow. The older Slovenian now holds a 57-second lead over Pogačar heading in another mountainous stage Thursday evening (AEST), with the time trial to the summit of La Planche des Belles Filles the other major test on Stage 20.
"I don’t think the job is done," said Roglič. "There are still some hard stages to come and Tadej Pogačar is a great climber. I felt really good on the climb, but you can’t compare these last four to five kilometres to anything else.
"Am I happy with the gap I have over Pogacar? Well… It’s never enough gap! You know, when you have something, you always want more. But I was happy with the position I was in before the stage, and now I’m even happier. I’m glad this stage is behind us."
Roglič praised the work of teammate Sepp Kuss, who didn't ride the front of the race for long, but was there at crucial stages of the final climb for his team leader.
"Sepp Kuss and I talked during the climb and we decided he could go and try to win the stage," said Roglič, "as he could always drop back and help me. Also, the other tried to chase him back and it helped me realise many guys around me were struggling."
"Sepp’s attack pointed me when to attack myself. On this climb, every metre counts. Having his help was really good. Again, it has been a very big performance from him and the team."
Pogačar's performance was his most vulnerable of the race, looking very tired by the time he reached the upper slopes of the climbs and clearly not having much punch left in his legs when it came to closing down Roglič in the final kilometres.
"I’m happy with my performance it was a really tough day," said Pogačar. "Bahrain did a really hard tempo on Madeleine and then on the Col de la Loze the race just exploded on those last few kilometres. On that hard final, I’m happy to be third and not lose so much time.
The 21-year-old was sporting a dour demeanour after the stage, but still maintained hope of taking the yellow jersey before the race arrives in Paris.
"It’s still reachable," said Pogačar. "Tomorrow’s another hard day, we’ll see if there’s anything we can do. We can be happy with how we’ve rode so far how we’ve rode so far. We’ll fight to the end of course.
"Those steep sections and flat section, that was hard for me today, also it was at altitude… that was one of the hardest finales I’ve ever done.”
Pogačar took control of the king of the mountains jersey, sitting on 66 points with his nearest rivals also his general classification foes in Roglič on 63 points and Lopez on 51. While Stage 18 would have been a good opportunity for a breakaway rider to pursue the polka dot jersey, there aren't many breakaway candidates that can overhaul his points tally if he picks up a handful of points throughout the stage.
“Not really, but I saw on Madeleine it was ten points for free almost, I went for them,' said Pogačar when asked if the climber's jersey was an objective for him. "Then in the end I also got many points. Why not? If I’m in the grasp to take it, I’ll take it. The objective is still the general classification but if I cannot take yellow I will take this.”
Pogačar also retained his white jersey as the best young rider, with Enric Mas (Movistar) the closest competitor at three minutes and 21 seconds behind the Slovenian.
The 2020 Tour de France continues with Stage 18, last drinks for the contenders before the final individual time trial. On this 167km Alpine stage, riders face 4,000m of vertical gain. Watch Stage 18 via the SBS ŠKODA Tour Tracker from 7:55pm (AEST) on Thursday, 8:05pm (AEST) on SBS On Demand, or tune into the television broadcast from 9:30pm (AEST) on SBS.