A tale of two rivals: is Pogačar now Tour de France favourite after week one duels?

It's a two horse race at the top, but there's plenty to fight for further down the GC as well

It’s apt that the year the Tour de France finally returns to the legendary Puy de Dôme, a rivalry worthy of comparison with the legendary battles of yore has emerged between Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogačar. As has been much discussed in the build-up before today’s stage, this volcano is most famous for the battle conducted between Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor in 1964, immortalised by a photograph of the pair locked side-by-side. Along with others such as Coppi vs Bartali, Merckx vs Ocaña and Armstrong vs Ullrich, Anquetil vs Poulidor is known as being one of the great Tour de France one-on-one showdowns, but aside from a few tussles between Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck, the Tour hasn’t witnessed something like Vingegaard and Pogačar’s burgeoning rivalry for the last two decades.

One thing that differentiates Pogačar and Vingegaard from Anquetil and Poulidor, as well as most of these other rivalries, is how evenly-matched they are, and today’s stage was arguably a draw between the two. Pogačar did manage to drop his rival with a typically unforgiven acceleration 1,500 metres from the top, but Vingegaard rode smartly to not go into the red, and limited his losses to just eight seconds. It’s a dynamic we’ve seen many times between the two: Pogačar can gain small amounts of time in short bursts on steep ramps like the final metres of the Puy de Dôme, but Vingeagaard can strike back with bigger time gains over longer efforts.

Read more: Agony and ecstasy on Puy de Dôme

That said, the result certainly reinforces the impression that the momentum is currently with the Slovenian. When Pogačar attacked Vingegaard to gain 24 seconds on Cauterets-Cambasque, it was unclear whether he was indeed riding much better, or just capitalising after Vingegaard had miscalculated and put too much effort into trying initially to put his rival under pressure. Today, however narrow the margins, Pogačar came out top in a mano y mano battle between the two, and it might just have edged Pogačar to the status as overall favourite.

But really, the events here on the Puy de Dôme were not as decisive as some of the past battles here. The first week ends with the GC beautifully poised, Vingegaard leading by a mere 17 seconds, the kind of advantage you’d probably rather not have compared with not being obliged to defend the yellow jersey. Although crowds came out in numbers for the climb’s lower slopes, narrow roads meant they weren't allowed to gather towards the top, and the lack of any fans on the roadside when Pogačar made his move added to this slight sense of bathos. The view from behind Pogačar after he made his attack illustrated just how high up they were and how much elevation had been gained, but with nobody there to cheer him on, there wasn’t the same intensity that characterised Vingegaard’s attack on the Col de Marie Blanque on Wednesday, and his rival’s response the following day on Cauterets-Cambasque (just look at the man brandishing a flare the moment Pogačar makes his move on the latter).

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It’s clear from the opening week of the Tour that the contest for the yellow jersey will, as widely predicted, be a two-horse race between these rivals, but a real tussle is developing for the final podium place. Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) has been firmly established as the frontrunner since his bold long-range attack and stage win in the Pyrenees on stage five, but allowed his advantage to slip after being dropped on Puy de Dôme by most of his rivals, throwing the race for third-place wide open.

Hindley still has a considerable lead of 1:42 over his nearest rival Carlos Rodríguez, but the Spaniard succeeded in reducing that from 1:56 after dropping the Australian today. The 22-year-old is enjoying a terrific debut Tour, even more impressive than his seventh-place overall finish on Grand Tour debut at last year’s Vuelta a España, but Ineos Grenadiers face a bit of a dilemma as to how to approach the GC race. Tom Pidcock actually distanced Rodríguez on the climb today and did not hold back in order to help his teammate for the final few hundred metres (not that he would have made much of a difference anyway on such steep gradients). Moving up to seventh overall and being only a further 1:04 adrift from Hindley, Pidcock is himself a podium contender, and the team will have to figure out how to best harness both riders’ impressive form to get one of them on the podium.

The only podium rider to go better than them on the Puy de Dôme was Simon Yates (Jayco-Alula), who has looked especially sprightly this week. By crossing the finish line today alongside Pidcock, he ends the week in sixth overall and 2:04 behind Hindley, a deficit that would have been significantly smaller had he not conceded 27 seconds yesterday following a very unfortunately timed mechanical. The Brit has a habit of falling out of GC contention at Grand Tours (as illustrated by the fact that he’s only made the top seven in one of his last seven appearances), but if he can avoid any mishaps this time then he has the climbing legs to potentially oust Hindley for third.

His brother Adam is also in the mix, but the priority for him and his UAE Team Emirates team is delivering Pogačar to overall victory. Whereas Jumbo-Visma have used Sepp Kuss sole as a climbing domestique to burn off their rivals and sit aside, which is why he lies in ninth overall at 6:45 despite being arguably the most impressive climber at the race after the big two, UAE seem keen to keep Yates up there on GC as a secondary GC option. At 4:39 adrift from the yellow jersey, he’s still too close for comfort for Jumbo-Visma to allow him to get up the road, and should the race pan out certain ways tactically, he might make the podium by default.

These are the only four riders within 2:46 of Hindley’s time, and it was a bad day for French hopes for a podium after both David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) and Romain Bardet (DSM) were distanced early on the Puy de Dôme. They’ve fallen to eighth and 10th respectively on GC, 3:21 and 4:18 down on Hindley, but Gaudu bounced back from similar bruising days to finish fourth at last year’s Tour, while Bardet is an experienced campaigner who knows how to gauge a GC effort.

There’s a lot of racing to come in these final two weeks, and many massive Alpine summits to conquer, so the race for the podium remains wide open, even if the race for the yellow jersey is surely to be contested by two elite rivals.


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