Pogačar has pole position, but the GC fight at the Tour de France looks finely poised

The race for yellow is shaping up to be one the highest quality Tours de France of recent generations

Seven days into the Tour de France, following the all-important first individual time trial of the race, the top of the GC is about as finely poised as all of us longing for a close, competitive battle for the yellow jersey could have hoped for. Each representative of the so-called big four have lived up to their billing, and now occupy all four top spots on the GC, with a mere 1:36 separating them all. With all looking either at or near top form, and none being affected by injuries in what has been a pleasingly crash-light race so far, this is shaping up to be one the highest quality Tours de France of recent generations. 

For now, Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) remains in pole position. Although he was denied the stage win today by Remco Evenepoel (Soudal–Quick-Step), the Slovenian successfully defended the yellow jersey he took in the Alps on stage four. While he shed 12 seconds to the Belgian, the 22 and 25 seconds gained over Primož Roglič (Red Bull-Bora-Hansgrohe) and Jonas Vingegaard (Visma-Lease a Bike), respectively, makes this day a very productive one for him. 

In particular, the gains he has made over Vingegaard will be especially encouraging. Having gained time attacking him on the Galibier and pressing on the following descent during stage four, Pogačar is now 1:15 ahead of his great Danish rival on the GC. That feels significant, as it’s the biggest lead the Slovenian has held over Vingegaard since defeating him at the 2021 Tour. At no point last year did he get ahead by more than 11 seconds, while the biggest advantage he built in 2022 was 39 seconds, just before the fateful day in the Alps, where he was dropped out of contention.

Tadej Pogačar still remains at the top of the GC after the first time trial (Image by James Startt)

Pogačar, for now, can enjoy being back on the front foot, having spent so much of the last two Tours de France playing catch up, and has Vingegaard under pressure. But Vingegaard himself won’t be too disheartened. Given everything he’s had to overcome going into this Tour de France, to be only down 1:15 after so many potentially hazardous stages will feel like a success. And though today’s performance is a drop off from recent Tour de France time trials, of which he has beaten Pogačar in both their last two showdowns, the big, decisive gains that ultimately won him the yellow jersey in 2023 and 2022 came instead in the high mountains. If, as expected, he improves as the Tour goes on, while he builds into form and full fitness, he can certainly make up that lost time during the summit finishes of the second and third week. 

Read more: The latest stage results and leaders

Before we get too fixated on Tadej Pogačar versus Jonas Vingegaard, we should remember that, for the first time in years, the yellow jersey race is shaping up to be more than just a two-horse race. Remco Evenepoel has disrupted the duopoly and currently stands between both riders in second place, 33 seconds behind Pogačar and 42 seconds ahead of Vingegaard. The Belgian already occupied that spot on GC before the time trial, thanks to his brilliant ride to catch up with Pogačar and Vingegaard on the descent to the finish on stage two and his performance on the Galibier two days later. 

The time trial was always likely to be where Evenepoel would make up ground on the other big four (he is the world champion, after all), but to actually do so and deliver on the big stage is never guaranteed, especially for a young Tour debutant. The real test of his yellow jersey credentials is still to come in the summit finishes, but for now, he remains a contender, having barely put a foot wrong all race. 

Remco Evenepoel during his stage-winning ITT (Image by James Startt)

The one member of the big four who might be worried about how his Tour is going so far is Primož Roglič. He’s the lowest placed of the four, at 1:36 behind Pogačar, and the form he showed on the Galibier, which he spent hanging on at the back of the group of favourites, suggests he’s done well to remain that close.

Today’s time trial offered a chance for him to make up some time with a statement ride, given his quality in this discipline. And he did indeed gain time on Vingegaard, recovering from a slow start to put 21 seconds into him. But compared with the time trial at Itzulia Basque Country earlier this year, where he managed to defeat Evenepoel to win the stage, third place was a little underwhelming, and the 34 and 22 seconds he lost to Evenepoel and Pogačar, respectively, not ideal. It’s hard to shake the feeling that, at the age of 34, Roglič just isn’t quite at the level of his younger competitors anymore. Still, he remains very much in the race for the yellow jersey, and there’s a long way to go; his Grand Tour experience might yet prove a trump card over youth. 

While Roglič is still in contention for yellow, it’s unlikely anyone else is. Pogačar’s teammates Juan Ayuso and João Almeida occupy the next two spots on GC, at 2:16 and 2:17, respectively, and they have to prioritise helping their leader over their own hopes. In fact, Carlos Rodríguez (Ineos Grenadiers) is the only rider in the top ten who isn’t a teammate of one of the big four, and he lost some ground in the time trial, falling to seventh overall at 2:31. He may, therefore, be the only rider poised to take on the big four, but a push for a podium spot seems more realistic than the yellow jersey itself. For now, the big four’s supremacy has been reiterated, and a battle royal involving all of them is on the cards.

*Cover image by SWPix.com

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