It might be the greatest battle cycling has seen since the balance of power shifted from Bernard Hinault to Greg LeMond in 1986. Jonas Vingegaard’s quest to become the first rider to beat the brilliant Tadej Pogacar to a Tour de France crown has had much of the world on the edge of its seat over the past two weeks.
And with six stages left before Sunday’s finish on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, the Dane knows that he faces a real struggle to stave off Pogacar and claim his first Grand Tour success.
Pogacar had looked as unflappable as ever until Wednesday’s stage 11, when Vingegaard’s Jumbo-Visma team launched a series of attacks on the Col du Galibier which the Slovenian had initially appeared to resist with something to spare despite a lack of support from his UAE Team Emirates teammates.
But when Vingegaard attacked again on the ascent to the Col du Granon, an exhausted Pogacar had nothing left to give. His 39-second advantage had become a deficit of two minutes and 22 seconds, and the course of the entire Tour de France had shifted.
Despite his team being hit by Covid-19 positives and abandonments, Pogacar has made attempted counter-attacks on each of the stages since his stage 11 setback, most notably when he tried to launch a breakaway immediately after the flag drop in Saturday’s leg from Saint-Etienne to Mende. However, Vingegaard has been equal to every burst.
That could all change, though, after Sunday’s chaotic stage 15, which saw Vingegaard go to ground in a bunch crash and Jumbo-Visma teammates Primoz Roglic and Steven Kruijswijk both abandon the race after suffering injuries in crashes. While Vingegaard maintained his 2:22 lead, the loss of key domestiques leaves him with a weakened supporting cast going into the final week and takes away some of the strength in numbers which has served the Jumbo-Visma rider well to this point.
“They’re two very, very important teammates, two very strong riders, so of course it’s not nice,” Vingegaard conceded to reporters on Sunday night. “It was quite a bad day for us but we’ll just keep on fighting all the way to Paris.”
Pogacar had already sent out a warning on Saturday that Wednesday and Thursdays stage in the Pyrenees is where he will look to take his chance to regain the yellow jersey. “I know how good each one of them is,” the 2020 and 2021 champion said of Jumbo-Visma’s riders. “I’m looking forward to the Pyrenees. Today I got a lot of information. It’s not going to be easy days for Jumbo in the next days.”
On Tuesday the tour heads from Carcassonne to Foix, before Wednesday’s gruelling trek from Saint Gaudens to Peyragudes. Pogacar will be hoping that when he leaves Hautacam on Thursday night, he does so in possession of the yellow jersey once more.
But the sight of Pogacar and Vingegaard going wheel-to-wheel has been thrilling thus far, and there could be plenty more of that to come in the final six days of one of the most memorable Tours de France in decades.
Whoever reaches Paris in yellow, this has been a race for the ages.
1st: Jonas Vingegaard (Den, Jumbo-Visma) 59h 58’ 28”
2nd: Tadej Pogacar (Svn, UAE Team Emirates) +2’ 22”
3rd: Geraint Thomas (Gbr, Ineos Grenadiers) +2’ 43”
Tuesday: Stage 16 - Carcassonne to Foix (hilly)
Wednesday: Stage 17 - Saint Gaudens to Peyragudes (mountain)
Thursday: Stage 18 - Lourdes to Hautacam (mountain)
Friday: Stage 19 - Castelnau-Magnoac to Cahors (flat)
Saturday: Stage 20 - Lacapelle Marival to Rocamadour (individual time-trial)
Sunday: Stage 21 - Paris La Defense Arena to Paris Champs-Elysees (flat)
*18+ | BeGambleAware