The best of the rest: What's next for Evenepoel and Roglič at the Tour de France?

Stage 11 of the 2024 Tour de France resulted in a major GC battle, a sign of what is to come in the upcoming mountain stages

Stage eleven’s hectic, brutal slog through the Massif Central seemed to confirm what many believe to be the developing narrative of the 2024 Tour de France: that we’re in for another two-horse race between the two familiar old foes, Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and Jonas Vingegaard (Visma-Lease a Bike). First, Pogačar laid the hammer down with a bold attack on the third-to-last climb of the day, and then Vingegaard slowly but surely dragged him back in the following kilometres. Both arrived at the line together, and mere centimetres separated them in the final sprint, where Vingegaard came out on top. 

Yet, while these two were hogging the spotlight with their showdown, not far behind, Remco Evenepoel was riding sensibly to limit his losses. The Soudal–Quick-Step rider never tried to follow their explosive acceleration, first letting Pogačar go clear on Puy Mary, then Vingegaard when the pair soon after came together on the run-in to the penultimate climb of the day, Col de Pertus. Though he was not able to match their accelerations, neither was he struggling too severely and made it to the finish just 25 seconds behind them both — hardly a killer blow.

In fact, that time loss was not even enough for Vingegaard to overtake Evenepoel on GC, and the Belgian remains second as Pogačar’s nearest challenger. He ends the day 1:05 behind the Slovenian and still eight seconds ahead of Vingegaard. As things stand, who can argue that Evenepoel isn’t still in the race for the yellow jersey?

Remco Evenepoel still leads in the white jersey and sits second on the GC (Image by ASO)

It’s clear Evenepoel isn’t climbing as quickly as the other two. Just as on the Col du Galibier last week (the only other comparable day of climbing we’ve had at the Tour so far), Evenepoel was dropped by both riders when Pogačar made his attack on Puy Mary. This time, in fact, Primož Roglič (Red Bull-Bora-Hansgrohe) too rode away from him on that climb, suggesting that he was slipping to fourth in the GC hierarchy. But, ultimately, Evenepoel judged his effort masterfully, not going into the red and having enough in the tank to catch both Vingegaard and Roglič on the descent, then next time, staying with the latter when Vingegaard attacked on the Col de Pertus. 

It’s this kind of maturity we might not have seen from Evenepoel had he chosen instead to make his Tour debut a few years ago. If some of his past rides in other races are anything to go by, the Evenepoel of a few years ago might have recklessly tried to follow these moves from Pogačar and Vingegaard and ended up getting punished for it. Instead, you can tell he’s riding aware of the lessons learned while winning the Vuelta a España two years ago against not-so-strong a field, and this 24-year-old version of Evenepoel is riding with a maturity rarely demonstrated by a Tour debutant.

So, can he win the yellow jersey? It still feels like a very big ask when up against opposition as quality as the two men he’s in competition with. But the rankings show that Evenepoel has been the match of Vingegaard so far this Tour, and while we should expect him to lose time on the Pyrenean and Alpine summit finishes to come if their climbing form remains the same, there’s no telling how everyone’s legs might change as we go deeper into the Grand Tour, or what ill-fortune might strike someone. And so long as he still has the final time trial in Nice to look forward to, they will both need a healthy advantage over the world champion to be confident of holding him off.

Even if yellow does prove to be beyond him, a podium finish would still be a fine achievement for Evenepoel. Right now, he appears to have one main rival for that podium spot, and it’s the man who was widely expected before the race to be the other at the top of the GC — Primož Roglič. The Red Bull-Bora-Hansgrohe rider is currently the weakest of the big four and has had to ride more on the defensive than the others, but he still comes through the halfway point of the Tour with a deficit of just 2:15 to Pogačar, and 1:01 to Vingegaard in third. 

Primož Roglič looked the strongest he has so far on stage 11 (Image by ASO)

That might have been a lot worse had the three-kilometre rule not come to his rescue. Just when it looked as if he was to limit his losses well and make it to the finish with Evenepoel, disaster ostensibly struck when he fell on the descent to the finish. Though he managed to remount quite quickly and sprint to the finish, he still reached the line 55 seconds behind the two leaders, as well as losing 30 seconds to Evenepoel. But in another late twist, it was announced shortly after the stage finished that, to the surprise of many, the three-kilometre rule was in effect today, meaning he was given the same time as Evenepoel and rescued those 30 seconds.

That’s a merciful reprieve for the Slovenian, but he’s facing an increasingly uphill task if he’s to achieve what he set out to do at this Tour de France and win the yellow jersey. Right now, he clearly isn’t at the level of Pogačar and Vingegaard and would need a big change in form and momentum to reverse that. A podium finish is certainly still on the cards, but given he already has one of those on his palmarès following his runner-up finish in 2020, and the fact that you sense he’s riding this Tour precisely to make up for that heartbreaking loss and exorcise the famous memory of Planche des Belles Filles time trial, will he really settle for that? 

So long as Roglič remains close to the top of GC, he will still dream of yellow; and for all that this Tour is shaping up to a Pogačar versus Vingegaard rematch, it is at the same time the showdown between the big four that fans around the world longed for.

*Cover image by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

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