‘This is the cycling we love’ - The Tour de France has been set alight

The favourites emerged on a punchy second stage to Bologna

We had all been waiting for the moment. As soon as the route for the opening two stages of this year’s Tour de France were announced, the stage was set. A punchy, sharp finishing circuit around Bologna had Tadej Pogačar’s name written all over it. On day two of a brutal start to La Grande Boucle, the UAE Team Emirates rider made his eventual move on final ascent of Côte de San Luca in his usual way: a series of sharp, powerful pedal strokes out of the saddle with all the explosiveness of a firework. 

It was no shock to see the Slovenian rider do it – but the unknown was who would be able to follow the attack when it came. Despite the doubts cast after Jonas Vingegaard’s crashes so far this year, the Dane was sharp, alert and reacted without even a moment's hesitation. After that, the pair were away together, riding with determination and panache through the Italian crowd, matching each other pedal stroke for pedal stroke. We’re a year on and it’s like nothing has changed. Cycling’s biggest rivalry is back in the Tour de France. Away we go.

“It was just a good enough final to test the legs, the legs of me and other contenders. I did a really good attack. I was happy that I exploded the contenders a little bit but Jonas was quite fast on my wheel, and he was really strong,” Pogačar said after the stage, a few moments after being awarded the yellow jersey as the new race leader. 

“The stage was amazing on the whole circuit in Bologna and on the climb. It was quite insane. Really unbelievable. I think this is cycling we should all love,” he added.

The spectacle of these two riders going head to head is something that cycling fans have looked forward to for the last 12 months. All of the speculation leading up to the start of this Tour de France has steadily built tension – there has been the drama of injuries, the concern of fatigue, the pre-race press conferences trying to squeeze information out of the riders on how they were really feeling. Today, the roads revealed it all.

But while some questions were answered about the form of the famous pairing on the second day, there are still 19 stages of this Tour to go. Vingegaard and Pogačar might dominate the headlines today but they weren’t the only riders who showed impressive promise when it comes to the general classification as this race continues. Both Soudal-Quick-Step’s Remco Evenepoel and Richard Carapaz of EF Education-EasyPost finished alongside the duo on the stage and all four riders sit on the same time on the general classification. Evenepoel himself was sure that while he might have missed Pogačar’s initial attack today, this doesn’t mean that beating the Slovenian is out of reach. 

“I think Tadej’s attack was explosive and impressive. The moment I came back to his wheel I had to close a small gap, it was a miscalculation from my side to be a bit too far back, especially with all the fans on the side of the road,” the 24-year-old said after the stage. “It was very difficult to move up but in the end it’s good I came back to the guys.”

Tadej Pogačar

Evenepoel was sure that he is building into this race, appearing calm and optimistic that there was no need to panic when it comes to his form.

“I always know in the beginning of the race I have to find my explosiveness. That’s what came out today, that the legs are good but not super. I’m looking for my best shape and trying to grow to 105% so I’m happy with today’s effort, but of course it wasn’t my best day on the bike. I didn’t lose any time to the best three favourites so I have to be happy today,” he said.

It should also be considered that the fact Pogačar took yellow at the end of the day’s stage could be a hindrance in the flatter stages to come. The responsibility now lies with UAE Team Emirates to honour the jersey, controlling the pace during the stage and keeping their leader protected while other teams, importantly the likes of Visma-Lease a Bike and Soudal-Quick-Step, can profit off it behind. These are the intricacies of the Tour de France – every use of energy, every calculation and every attack accumulates over three weeks. The rider who keeps getting it right is the one who will eventually take home victory.

For now, however, Pogačar seems content with the yellow jersey sitting on his shoulders. The prestige and importance of wearing the maillot jaune is not lost on the Slovenian, and there’s a lot to be said for the confidence his performance today will give him as the race continues.

Pogačar is strong, but so are others. This Tour de France has the makings to be a humdinger of a battle.

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