Everyone expects this year’s Tour de France to be a two-car race between defending champion Jonas Vinzigard (Denmark) and 2020 and 2021 winner Tadej Pogacar (Slovenia). rice field. And everyone expected their first real test to come on days five and six in the Pyrenees.
Wednesday was Vinzigor day, but Thursday was Pogacar day, so it looks like the Tour could be a hotly contested battle between the two over the next two weeks.
First blood was sent to Vinzigard on Wednesday. Australia’s Jay Hindley won the stage and briefly claimed the leader’s yellow jersey, but the real battle was a little further down the line. Vanzigor pulled away from Pogacar just a mile from the top of the Marie Blanc pass, turning an 11-second overall advantage over his rivals to a 53-second advantage at the start of the day.
Thursday was even more demanding, climbing the famous Col d’Apin and Col du Tourmalet and, importantly, finishing on the climb to Cauterets Canbasque.
Aspin was pretty steep, but I knew there were two tough climbs ahead, so I didn’t attack Vinzigor or Pogacar. Things got heated at Tourmalet, which has participated in over 80 Tours since 1910.
Tour climbs are graded into categories 1, 2, 3 and 4 depending on their severity. Tourmalet is one of the few difficult-to-grade ‘categories of horses’ or ‘not categorized’ and is impossible to classify. Its summit is at an elevation of nearly 7,000 feet.
Assisted by the strong Jumbo Visma team, Vinzigard attacked about two miles to the top of Tourmalet, knocking out race leader Hindley and others. When his final teammate, American Sepp Kass, fell behind, there were only two of the tour’s biggest stars left. The Vinegard swung his hammer down. But unlike Wednesday, Pogacar was able to stick with him all the way to the top. “You really pushed Pogacar to the limit,” Vinzigor’s team radio should have told him.
After a fast descent, eight riders joined the lead on the descent of the final climb, with French President Emmanuel Macron, himself a cyclist, enjoying the race behind him in the official car.
The group followed the determined pace of Vinzigaard’s teammate Wout van Aert until Vinzigaard took off with three miles to go. Pogacar followed, and only Michal Kwiatkowski of Poland could keep them company.
Vinzigard tried again when the brutal climb reached its steepest point two miles from the summit. With the world’s best cyclists struggling behind them, Pogacar was once again equal to him.
Vanzigor seemed to be the driving force of the stage, but with 1.5 miles to go Pogacar took a surprise attack and the story changed. The Vingigard seemed to have been caught without realizing it, and could not keep up. Pogacar continued to run for a stage win at the top.
“I feel a little relieved. I feel so much better now,” Pogacar said after the stage. “The display Jonas showed yesterday was unbelievable.”
Vingegard’s teammate Kuss said: “We wanted to have a tough race, especially at Tourmalet, but Pogacar was really strong today.”
By the start of the stage, he was 53 seconds ahead of Pogacar, so Vinzigor took the yellow jersey as the overall leader, but Pogacar was just 25 seconds behind. Hindley dropped to third place, one minute and 34 seconds behind.
After a few flat stages, Sunday’s climb to the Puy de Dome looms large. And then there are five more stages with significant hill climbing.
Had Vinzigor left Pogacar behind on both big stages in midweek, the Tour might have felt all but over. Instead, as Pogacar put it, “I think it’s going to be a big, big fight until the final stage.”