‘I’m not afraid of anyone’ - The real GC battle is about to begin at the Tour de France

It was fighting talk from the top three in the general classification after the first week of racing 

Tadej Pogačar, Remco Evenepoel and Jonas Vingegaard all say that they are feeling good going into week two of the 2024 Tour de France. On the first rest day, each rider showed a focused, confident demeanour in their press conferences, and this is going to make for some very exciting bike racing over the next three weeks. Sunday’s gravel stage in Troyes gave an insight into the varying power dynamics between the big three, but each rider’s sharp words on the rest day insinuates that the battle between them is about to get fiercer than ever.

“If Visma is trying to attack me mentally, they’re not succeeding. They race totally against me but I’m used to this. Already in the last three or four Tours it was the same so I'm getting used to this and it doesn’t hurt. I have to do my own race,” race leader Tadej Pogačar responded when questioned about whether Vingegaard was playing mental games with him when he wouldn’t work with the Slovenian on the gravel of stage nine.

“I’m not afraid of him. I was more afraid of Remco yesterday because he was flying. I’m not afraid of anyone, I just need to have a good day every day when I’m in my normal good shape. Yesterday I could see that Visma was afraid of us. You could see when Remco or anyone else had a gap, Jonas didn’t care, he was just caring about me,” the UAE Team Emirates rider continued.

While Pogačar was animated with his feelings when asked about how Visma-Lease a Bike are riding against him in this Tour de France, Vingegaard was calm and considered in his answers. The two riders could not be more starkly different on a number of levels. While Pogačar enjoys attacking and riding on instinct, Vingegaard is understated, calm and methodical in his dissection of the Tour de France.

“We only focused on not losing time yesterday,” the Danish rider stated. “Pogačar is not the only rival. It’s good for me that there are more rivals because then someone else can help to make the race harder which is always good for me. You have to be careful with everyone but yesterday our main focus was not to lose time, we succeeded in our tactics, maybe people don’t understand it but that’s their problem.”

Sitting in the middle of the two pre-race favourites who have won the last four Tours de France between them is Soudal–Quick-Step's Remco Evenepoel. While the Belgian rider is only in his first ever appearance in this race, he has proven –so far – that he has the ability to keep up with Pogačar and Vingegaard in crucial moments. Before the race, the 24-year-old said that he believed Pogačar would be almost unbeatable in this Tour de France, but he now only sits 33 seconds behind the Slovenian going into the second week. Has he changed his mind?

“Yesterday Pogačar’s attacks were quite brutal. My attack was all-in and he was the only guy who could close the gap, Jonas was in the wheel but Tadej was the guy who closed the gap really quickly and that’s where we see how good his level really is,” Evenepoel said on the rest day. 

“He looks good, he looks fresh, he looks ambitious so I think he is going to be tough to beat. But we always have to push and believe in it because a bad day can happen to anyone. We believe in ourselves and our own plans. If I end up as close as possible to Tadej, that will bring me as far in this Tour.”

The overriding feeling among Evenepoel, Pogačar and Vingegaard was that despite having raced for nine stages, there are still a number of question marks over each rider’s form. It is only on the ascent of the Galibier on stage four that we have seen a relative indication of how each of them are faring in the high mountains, and even then the headwind up the climb was said to have made riding in the peloton easier and neutralised attacks. The tension between the three riders comes largely because after the first week of the Tour, they still don’t fully know where each other stands.

“I feel very good. I feel like I’m growing into the race, getting better and better but also I feel like I already have a very high level, much higher than I expected with only one and a half months of real preparation,” Vingegaard said. “It’s good for me that we’ve had nine days where it has been easy in the first week.”

In last year’s Tour de France, we saw the general classification turn on its head in just two stages when Pogačar suffered his famous, spectacular blow-up on stage 17, and Vingegaard has repeatedly pointed to this when looking ahead to the weeks to come. He added that in two stages last year he gained over seven minutes on Pogačar – one bad day can be costly in the Tour. Pogačar, on the other hand, appears to have no fear that he will suffer the same fate in 2024.

“I'm way more confident in myself this year. I like the way the race has gone until now and I have a yellow jersey which feels good for me,” the 25-year-old said. “I just do my own race and normally if everything goes smooth I should have good legs next week and in the final few days.”

After a sprint stage to kick things off after the first rest day, stage 11 is the first chance that we could see Evenepoel, Pogačar and Vingegaard go head to head again in this Tour de France. It will be a long, hilly and complicated day that could either go to the breakaway, or see gaps emerge on the general classification. After that, the mountains come thick and fast in the final week, and there’s still everything to play for in this Tour de France. 

Three riders are desperate to win this bike race. Let the games begin.

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