If you blinked you would have missed it but it was there. A look over the shoulder. A sign of doubt.
The Tour de France yellow jersey had been dropped by Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard wasn’t looking ahead in hunger, he was looking backwards. If he was, as it appeared, looking for help he would find none.
Jumbo-Visma had let his team-mates take half the afternoon off, content to let Pogačar’s UAE Emirates team set the pace. Most of the way up the final Grand Colombier climb Vingegaard had only Sepp Kuss for company but that was, he said, things going to plan.
“We knew that UAE wanted to make the last climb hard,” Vingegaard explained. “So in that case we said to a lot of our guys that they could go easy from the bottom, so that’s why. At any point I wasn’t alone, so I think we did a good job today.”
His faithful lieutenant Sepp Kuss, who was with him until Pogačar accelerated inside the final kilometre, had a similarly relaxed attitude saying it had been “a good day”. He added: “We knew they would ride a good pace. On a climb like this it’s not so necessary to have the whole team there. Jonas could do it on his own if it was necessary. But I tried to be there when I could and help when I could.”
He said the finish had suited Pogačar’s “explosive” style “more or less like we expected”. He seemed unconcerned that the Slovenian who has bested his team leader on three of the four mountain stages so far in this year’s tour had “got some bonus seconds and some time difference”.
But then nor was the man himself shaken despite his cushion to second place nearly halving to just nine seconds. His confidence was undimmed, his resolve firm.
“The Tour won’t be decided by seconds.” he said. “As history has shown, it might only once have been decided by seconds. There’s always something happening on the really hard, long stages. It could also be that it’s decided on seconds but I don’t believe so.
“I’m confident in myself, I’m always confident in what I believe in my strengths. It will be exciting to see the next few days.”
“I’m still feeling very good. I’m feeling in good shape, like I’m getting better and better. The Tour de France will be decided within the next week.”
Vingegaard believes the longer harder stages to come will suit him better. He hopes that the next time he looks back over his shoulder he’ll see Pogačar – a very, very long way down the road.