Well, that was stressful

We all just lived the most dramatic hour of Tour de France racing in recent memory.

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In the cinematic sweep of this Tour de France, there’ll be certain scenes that endure longer. The Col du Granon, when Jonas Vingegaard cracked Tadej Pogačar the first time, will be one of them. The Col de Spandelles – the penultimate climb of the stage, prior to the Hautacam – was packed with near endless drama, including about 10 distinct moments that on any other day would’ve defined an entire stage. 

You know how in serial killer movies there’s a detective with a pin board and red string everywhere, linking it all together? The densely packed plot lines of the day’s penultimate climb had that kind of vibe: Jumbo-Visma riders up and down the road, the movements of Pogačar and Vingegaard, the constantly shifting developments.

Pogačar, a two-time Tour champion looking for a third, entered stage 18 needing to attack. A day earlier, an uneasy stalemate had descended, and the Slovenian needed to risk losing the race to win it. On the slopes of the Col de Spandelles, with Vingegaard shepherded by super-domestique Sepp Kuss, Pogačar had had enough of waiting. An attack. Another one. Another. Five in a row, each stretching the elastic a little further and looking for a vulnerability to exploit. 

There’s both beauty and savagery in cycling, and Pogačar’s attacks contain both. You can see it in the fluid way he throws his bike back and forth as he springs forward, and the sense of play he brings to making his rivals hurt. For most of the past two seasons, there haven’t been equals to that – just Pogačar, somewhere up there, untouchable above most others. In Jonas Vingegaard, this Tour he has found his match. So on the Col de Spandelles, five times, Pogačar attacked, and Vingegaard responded. 

Geraint Thomas, a more patient and less explosive rider, worked his way back, and having had enough of the surges, just kept going. Of course, Pogačar went again. That ferocious acceleration, with Vingegaard stuck to his back wheel, whipped past Thomas so quickly that he might as well have been track-standing on the mountainside. 

Nearing the top of the Col de Spandelles, Pogačar tried once more for good measure. In the space of half a cat.1 climb, he’d inflicted seven brutal attacks. It was high drama, and it wasn’t over yet. 

On the twisty descent, the two best riders of this year’s Tour de France sped down narrow, gravel-verged roads. Vingegaard narrowly missed crashing on a left hand turn – a dropped chain, he said in his press conference, which spiralled into a hopped rear wheel, a foot out of the pedal, and a heart in the mouth. In a parallel universe, Jonas Vingegaard didn’t keep it up. In another parallel universe, that’s where Tadej Pogačar won the bike race back. 

In this universe – this stressful, sweaty, scintillating universe of the 2022 Tour de France – Vingegaard somehow got it around. Moments later, on another left hander, Pogačar carried too much speed into a corner, almost held it, slowed a little, then washed out his front wheel in the gravel.

For a second or two, as Pogačar scrambled back to his feet, Vingegaard could have pushed home the advantage. He didn’t: with Wout van Aert up the road and teammates behind, there was no need to isolate himself by forcing the pace. Sitting up and looking over his shoulder, he took a little wobble to the edge and could’ve crashed again. 

Finally, Pogačar and Vingegaard were together again, on their way to the Hautacam and an eventful few kilometres closer to the end of the Tour de France. The stage – and maybe the Tour de France – would be won on the Hautacam. But in the hour before that, in one of the tensest, most exhausting stage finishes in recent cycling history, it could’ve been won and lost countless times over. 

It was stressful as hell. You would’t have it any other way. 

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