Jonas Vingegaard does not deal in hypotheticals. The Jumbo-Visma rider, the race leader at this year’s Tour de France after two weeks of racing, will not entertain imagined scenarios.
The Dane deals in facts. After 14 stages, he leads Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) by ten seconds. There are just seven stages left, of which only three are likely to be decisive in the general classification battle.
Take Pogačar’s aborted attack – thanks to fans and motorbikes being too close – at the top of the Col de Joux Plane. There is no point for Vingegaard to ask “what if”. It didn’t happen, he ended up being the beneficiary of the maximum bonus seconds at the top of the climb, and therefore his race lead has been strengthened.
“I gained one second, so in that case, I’m now 10 seconds in front,” Vingegaard matter-of-factly said in the post-stage press conference. “It’s always hard to tell the moral winner. We are happy with how it went, and I don’t think about who’s the moral winner.”
It’s simple for him. Today, he and Pogačar were locked in stalemate. Tomorrow, they will try again. Despite the lack of daylight between the pair – 10 seconds is nothing, really – Vingegaard is still convinced that the Tour will be won by minutes, not seconds. The longer the stalemate goes on, however, the more likely the race will come down to bonus seconds, or a short sprint, or a brief loss of concentration.
There was a brief moment when it did look like more of a gap would be made, as Pogačar attacked with 3.7km to go to the top of the final climb, and put a handful of seconds into Vingegaard, but the latter slowly brought it back.
“Pogačar didn’t manage to get away, and we managed to take a second, so it was a nice duel between the two,” Jumbo-Visma
directeur sportif Frans Maassen said post-stage. “Maybe in the next few days it will change again, the situation, but it was equal I think, at one point. We will have to see tomorrow.
“They made history. I think, it was really nice for everyone to watch the Tour de France today, and also from us in the car it was really nice for us to be there. We went full, and we didn’t manage to win the stage, and neither did Pogačar, but I think we saw an exciting stage.”
All Vingegaard had to say on the incident was: “He [Pogačar] had a very strong attack, and I just had to do my own tempo, and luckily it was enough to catch back up with him.”
(Image credit: Bernard Papon/Getty Images)
Nothing was lost on Saturday, then, but equally, nothing was particularly gained. Jumbo-Visma drilled it on the front all day, with the whole team, from Dylan van Baarle to Wout van Aert, via Sepp Kuss, putting in huge turns on the front to thin the bunch out, to isolate Pogačar. And yet, only one second was taken at the end of the stage.
The toll of the effort might show in the coming days; surely it will be impossible for Jumbo to attempt this tactic again and again.
“It’s a nice feeling when everybody is motivated for our plan,” Kuss said. “Jonas was also motivating us the whole time, saying that he was feeling good, and that we were riding really well, despite it being a hard day. Jonas gave it everything.
“Ideally, Jonas would have been solo, but it’s good that he came back to Pogačar and we got the bonus seconds on the top. In the finish, you never know who goes ahead, and takes the stage win, so that took some of the bonus seconds. Ideally, we would have had a beautiful solo victory.”
It also seems like Jumbo-Visma are running out of plans to dislodge Pogačar from their side, and the Slovenian always seems more able to steal a few seconds, get a bonus, sprint past Vingegaard – the gap is just 10 seconds, remember.
“We are happy with how we did, we are happy with how the team and I performed,” Vingegaard said, however. “Once again I wanted to say thanks to all my teammates, they really hard today and they did amazing once again.”
“It was not what we wanted, but Jonas fought for that really well,” Maassen said.
“[There’s] no disappointment. We went full for it, that’s racing, and we have to try again every day.”
It seems impossible to say where the momentum is in this see-saw Tour de France, but the longer Vinegaard and Pogačar remain locked in a duel, the more the latter will feel emboldened. Three decisive Alpine stages remain.