Tadej Pogačar is beatable: The Tour de France battle is on

Jonas Vingegaard got the better of Tadej Pogačar after a testing day in the Massif Central, proving that this Tour has the makings to be another closely-fought battle between the pair

There was a time when it looked like pink, yellow, rainbows and Olympic gold could all be his. The way that Tadej Pogačar rode in the Giro d’Italia a few weeks ago proved him as undoubtedly, unquestionably the best rider in the world. A few weeks later in the first few stages of the Tour de France, his reputation was, pretty much, holding. He took time on his rivals on the only mountain stage up the Galibier, and finished in second place on the time trial to Remco Evenepoel. The yellow jersey was on his shoulders going into the first rest day. It looked like the race was his for the taking.

Everything changed on Wednesday in the Massif Central. 211 kilometres and over 4000 metres of elevation gain over the rolling punchy French hills was pure Pogačar territory. Everyone knew that the attack would come on the final climbs: his UAE Team Emirates squad rode the stage with dominance, taking to the front of the peloton and controlling the breakaway to make their intentions clear from the off. So far this season, Pogačar has been able to set his troops to work like this. Previously, he didn't have to worry about mind games or keeping his cards close to his chest because he could always ride away from his rivals when the moment came.

That was, before Jonas Vingegaard was in a bike race with him. When the Slovenian rider made that much anticipated move on the penultimate climb of stage 11, the gap between him and his rivals opened as expected. But the stage did not go to Pogačar’s preferred script. The gap was closed by his long-time Visma-Lease a Bike adversary and the challenge of winning this Tour de France got a whole lot tougher for UAE Team Emirates.

“Actually the final climb was really hard, I didn't know how far to finish I had, I was a bit confused in the moment and with one kilometre to go until the top of climb, Jonas was really flying towards me, I was little bit surprised,” Pogačar admitted after the race. “I waited for him, took some rest and saw the top of the mountain. In the end I decided to wait for him and outsprint him at the top of the climb. Maybe it would have been better if I went over the limit for me and tried to make a gap on this climb, but he was going really good in the final kilometres.”

Photo: ASO/Billy Ceusters

The Slovenian rider’s surprise at Vingegaard’s ability to catch and outsprint him today comes, in part, due to the Danish rider’s lead-up to this race. Visma-Lease a Bike have said on multiple occasions that it is a victory for Vingegaard to be on the start line of the Tour de France at all after his career-threatening crash in the Basque Country earlier this season, and the team have played down expectations regarding his form. Whether they have been bluffing up to this point or not is all part of the game, and after today’s stage, Visma-Lease a Bike seem to be winning.

“It was a sprint after a tough day, Jonas was five centimetres faster than me today so chapeau to him, he deserved this victory, now everyone sees he is in the best shape of his career,” Pogačar commented after the race. “I think if you ask me, now we can say it’s a fair fight, it was a really interesting stage. In my eyes, if I was a fan watching it on TV, it would be one of the best stages ever. From my side, I was disappointed that I didn't take the stage win but it was a good day out there and I was still feeling really good. Hats off to Jonas beating me in the sprint, there will be more opportunities.”

While Pogačar’s answers regarding Vingegaard’s form were measured and respectful after he was beaten in today’s stage, there is no denying that there has been tension between the pair in this Tour de France so far. There were cutting words from the UAE Team Emirates rider during Monday’s press conference regarding Visma’s racing style in the gravel stage (Pogačar argued that the team is completely riding against him rather than worrying about other rivals), and there have been accusations thrown around that Vingegaard has been bluffing regarding his form all along. It’s a far cry from the hand holding on descents and hugging that we’ve seen from the pair in years gone by.

“I don’t see an advantage to Jonas, today we were pretty equal but at different times of the stage,” Pogačar said after the race. “Today was a different type of racing than what we will have in the next few days. We will see in big mountains how it will go in the Pyrenees. We can say that we are at a more or less similar level throughout the whole general view.”

In many ways, this Tour de France has been as much about mind games and speculation than it has about how the race has actually played out on the road. There have been criticisms of negative racing styles and the questioning of whether riders were being truthful about their form – it’s been a close-fought, tense and finely-strung battle so far. As the race heads further into the hills later this week and the general classification begins to be decided, everything will become much clearer. After stage 11 to Valloire, however, there is one, crucial takeaway: Tadej Pogačar can be beaten.

Cover photo: Zac Williams/SWpix

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