Tadej Pogakar’s hopes of ousting Jonas Weinggaard at the Tour de France have dashed after the final mountain stage in the Pyrenees, in which the Dane consolidated his overall lead, with only three stages remaining from this year’s race.
As at Col du Granon, Pogacar lost contact with Vingegaard midway into the final climb, after a fierce shift in speed from fellow Jumbo-Visma Wout van Aert further away the Slovenian. Vingegaard rode to the finish in Hautacam to take his second mountaintop win, while Pogacar reached across the finish line just over a minute later.
The Tour’s last day in the mountains before it turned and began the journey north towards Paris brought more stifling heat and a lot of suffering. Pogacar was one of those who suffered the most, finishing the stage in ripped shorts after colliding on the penultimate climb drop. Once again, the leading duo has surpassed its peers.
After Chris Froome pulled out before the start due to a positive Covid test, they went head-to-head on the narrow ascent of Cole de Spandell, the penultimate ascent of the day. Pogacar’s acceleration was matched by Vingegaard’s persistence, but more drama was to come in the landing. In an effort to apply more pressure, Pogacar forced the pace and watched the race leader’s rear wheel slip one turn, but Vinegaard somehow recovered and stayed upright.
“I dropped my chain and tried to pedal,” said the Dane. “Of course, you don’t have friction, so the rear wheel slipped and that was a bit wrong, but I was able to get back into Tadej.”
Moments later, it was Pogacar’s turn to get it wrong. He overcooked a curve on his left hand and he ended up in gravel on the side of the road. When he got to his feet, Vingegaard lost his speed and set free to climb until the defending champion regained his composure. When the double-round winner returned to his side, the pair shook hands, in appreciation of Danish sportsmanship.
Of course I waited for him, said Vinggaard. “Tadig went too fast in a corner and got out in the ditch and some gravel, then tried to get back on the road and the bike flipped.”
Prior to that, Van Aert led the latest breakaway from boarding up to Hautacam, with Thibaut Pinot and fellow Geraint Thomas’s Ineos Grenadiers Danny Martinez.
But by the time the trio entered the last six kilometres, the Vingegaard-Pogacar Express was coming fast and Van Aert had to forget his personal ambitions and resume his cavalry support missions.
“Theatre, Col du Granon and today are really good examples of how strong this team is,” said Vinggaard. “I am so happy to have such a strong team around me. To have Wout van Aert, the best rider in the world, as an assistant, the green jersey. They were all incredibly strong so I have to thank them many times.”
Down the mountain, Thomas was going through the mill again. In what may be his best performance of the tour, his flexibility and cunning ensured that he retained third place overall, despite attempts by David Gaudu and Nairo Quintana to slip past him.
“I was going through the highs and lows today,” said the Welshman. “I felt fine when it was starting, just starting to ride at my own pace.
“The last climb I wanted to stay with them up to the steep part, but I struggled there and had a bit of a bad patch. I came in a bit, as soon as I changed my bike [after a puncture]. “We still have tomorrow with crosswinds all day, because nothing is clear about this race,” he said of Friday’s stage for Cahors. “But I will try to recover and prepare for the trial of time.”
Vingegaard now drives the Pogacar by about three and a half minutes. There is one final showdown in the singles trial on Saturday, before the festive stage in Paris on Sunday afternoon. The Dane may not yet want to talk about it, but barring an unprecedented disaster, the race is being won.