Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) edges past Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) before his time trial effort on stage 20 of the 2022 Tour de France.

How might his first ever Tour defeat change Tadej Pogačar?

Losing might be the best thing that could have happened to the two-time Tour de France champion. And the worst thing for his rivals.

Don’t miss out on the latest CyclingTips updates.

Jump To Comments

It’s remarkable, really. Tadej Pogačar has completed his third Tour de France, and for the first time he did not arrive on the Champs-Élysées in yellow. The bad news for his rivals, is that coming second might be the best thing that could have happened to the man who has never really developed a relationship with losing.

“I think this year’s Tour is going to make me more hungry, more eager to win more, because, yeah, I like challenges in life and I see a really big challenge this year in Jonas [Vingegaard] who I couldn’t beat,” Pogačar said in the runner-up’s press conference after stage 20. “I’m really motivated for the next races and next Tour de France to be better and beat that obstacle, to get over this challenge.”

On Sunday evening, the young Slovenian experienced a slightly altered perspective on the Champs-Élysées as Jonas Vingegaard took the top step over him. The Jumbo-Visma rider finished second last year after stepping into his fallen leader’s shoes, and ended up pushing Pogačar hard in the mountains, being the only rider to distance the reigning champion on a climb.

This year was a different story and Vingegaard more than earned his yellow jumper, ultimately taking 3:34 out of his rival between stage 11 and Paris (and conceding 51 seconds by finishing with his Jumbo-Visma teammates behind the bunch).

Until now, Pogačar has been operating at the top of the mountain, several levels above his nearest challengers. He was at the very top, but in defeat he discovers a new landscape of possibility. 

If Pogačar is on a quest for self-improvement rather than consolidation, there’s no telling how good he might get.

The punchy Super Planche des Belles Filles was Pogačar’s playground, and landed a frightening early blow to his rivals.

A checklist of mistakes and failures

Pogačar was philosophical after stage 20. The man himself brought up his own mistakes without much prompting in the runner’s up press conference.

“We can take a lot of things from this Tour, a lot of mistakes that we made, a lot of good things we’ve done,” he said. “I think we have a good opportunity for next year because we know we can improve, look for new challenges.”

If mistakes and failures pave the way to success, then Pogačar just wrote himself a checklist of action points. Most notable is his approach to the Col du Granon which saw him fall into the trap set by a superior Jumbo-Visma. But there are a number of other things he’ll look back on. 

Stage 11, poking a superior climber, maybe going too hard in the first week…

“For sure there are more. I will analyse after the Tour. There have been a lot of factors we could go all day on.”

Pogačar lost three minutes on his way to the Col du Granon summit.

A team to rival Jumbo-Visma?

Admittedly, this isn’t something that Pogačar can directly influence – or maybe he can – but the way he works within the team could change after this Tour.

While it’s true that UAE Team Emirates was without doubt the unluckiest team throughout the three-week race – from Matteo Trentin’s pre-Tour COVID-19 positive to a fourth dropout before the second Alpine stage – even at full flight Pogačar’s support couldn’t match Jumbo-Visma, not for a sustained period.

“Every year is a bit different. A lot of things can happen, we had a lot of bad luck,” he said. “In preparation, in the race. We hope we can get better luck next year with that. We hope we can get better at small things and next we can match this year’s Jumbo-Visma.”

The diminished squad perhaps offered a glimpse into the future on stage 17, the day Pogačar lost a loyal lieutenant in Rafał Majka, by showing the world that they would go down fighting. The unlikely pairing of Mikkel Bjerg and last-remaining mountain man Brandon McNulty took it to Jumbo-Visma and successfully isolated Vingegaard on Peyragudes.

A rare sight: Vingegaard isolated.

With the yellow jersey undroppable, it didn’t really work out for them, and they were on their knees in the following days, but it was a Hail Mary that came as no surprise from the white jersey, who’s clearly got no problems leading a team.

It goes without saying that UAE Team Emirates will be on the hunt for some supreme talent for the 2023 season, preferably someone in the Wout van Aert mould. Although to be fair to them, with a hopefully retreating threat of COVID-19, lady luck ought to look after them better in future. Though Pogačar is a rider capable of looking after himself in all but the high mountains, things may well have been very different in the third week with a team at full strength.

A different approach to Grand Tour racing

The young Slovenian took everyone by surprise with his immense talent in 2020 and he dominated in 2021, largely off the back of an explosive, long-range attack on stage 8. But in 2022, he’s had a more dangerous adversary than ever in Vingegaard who showed that he could overcome Pogačar in the high mountains.

Victory number one on stage 6.

On stage 11, it seemed very much like Pogačar was at fault for going after Roglič and working too hard before the finale. But stage 18 to Hautacam showed that in Vingegaard, he’s met a rider who he can’t easily beat on long climbs.

“For me, yeah, on Col du Granon it was a mistake, but also given circumstances it was I think reasonable,” Pogačar said. “They were smart, they were strong as well. It was one stage but like all the other stages before and after that, I enjoyed racing and I don’t think I’ll change my style of riding.”

At this early stage, he doesn’t plan on reeling in his personal style any time soon, but though it’s good news for fans, that might be a mistake.

Pogačar came into the Tour going full gas from week one, as is his wont, taking two stage wins in the first seven days. His attacking style is a hallmark of the Pogačar way, and the risk after this year is that the young talent might instead test the old-fashioned tactic of peaking in the final week, putting aside the explosive entertainment we’ve come to know and love.

There’s also the question of his race schedule, which has been stacked with all-in efforts since the UAE Tour in February. From there he won Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico, fifth at Milan-Sanremo, fourth at the Tour of Flanders… Vingegaard, by comparison, has done more racedays, but he’s kept a significantly lower profile, often working a team role rather than for himself. It’s thought that a bit of a rethink might work in Pogačar’s favour, saving a little bit of oomph for the Tour.

A possible change to his style is the biggest danger for his rivals – the unknown quantity that he would become with an uncharacteristic plan of attack.

Changing his approach could make him a new rider at 24 years of age, which might just be the best way to hoodwink the rest. And frankly, either eventuality is good for the sport.

Editors' Picks