Seeking checkmate, Pogačar finds only stalemate

Pogačar was looking for revenge. He did not find it.

Don’t miss out on the latest CyclingTips updates.

Jump To Comments

We have a duel on the Alpe. Tadej Pogačar accelerates, probing for weakness. Jonas Vingegaard matches, showing none. The gap stretches to a meter, then one and a half, but no farther. Pogačar looks back, sits down, his lips pursed. Detente for the second time, they stare at each other with grimaces or wry smiles that acknowledge nobody is gaining anything today. 

This is the state of the Tour de France as we exit the Alps. Two protagonists, closely matched. The defending champion, back near his best on the Alpe, needs to regain time. He stares across at a confident maillot jaune with the strongest team in the race at his back. Neither flinches.

Every acceleration matched in kind. Every look over the shoulder greeted with a pair of light Danish eyes staring right on back. The gap is 2’22” in Vingegaard’s favor. It could not be set up any better. 

Pogačar learned from his mistakes on Wednesday. “I know what happened,” he said. “Too many attacks. I was a little bit stupid to follow everything.” He walked straight into Jumbo-Visma’s trap, taking what should have been near complete attention on Vingegaard and spreading it across half of Jumbo-Visma, following riders who didn’t need following. He pulled Vingegaard up the top of the Galibier for no reason at all. 

“It won’t happen again,” he said. 

Pogačar leads Vingegaard on Alpe d’Huez. (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

The dynamics of the race flipped on Wednesday, and the new reality came into focus on the way to Alpe d’Huez. Jumbo will be able to control the race more effectively than UAE did. Yellow on their shoulders is less onerous. Multi-climb days offer up fewer unknowns and less peril.

As he did on the Alpe, Pogačar will need to wait for Jumbo to use up its own riders before he can make any significant moves. When Sepp Kuss is riding the way he did Thursday, that won’t come until very late.

Jumbo will be happy to hold that two-minute buffer across the Massif Centrale and into the Pyrenees next week. It is unlikely Vingegaard will be caught out in some small moment of bad luck or positioning, as Pogačar could have been, simply because Wout van Aert exists. He will fix whatever problems may arise. Expect a few breakaway days and a controlled peloton. 

When we arrive in the Pyrenees, that will have to change. Pogačar cannot rely on the 40-kilometer time trial on stage 20 to pull back more than two minutes. He must gain time. He only has a few chances to do so. We’re about to find out how hard Pogačar will fight.

We have a duel, deep into the Tour de France. 

Editors' Picks