As a local saying goes, the pig seems in the corn. Understand, the carrots are now cooked for Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates). The Slovenian cracked on the slopes of Hautacam, 4.4 kilometers from a summit where his rival Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) won the 18th stage of the Tour de France alone, Thursday July 21.
The diabolical attack from the Dane, helped by his inexhaustible teammate Wout van Aert, proved decisive. Now with a lead of more than three minutes overall over the winner of 2021 and 2020, we do not see how the yellow jersey could come down from Vingegaard’s square shoulders by Sunday.
This duel is set to last a long time. If for the 2022 edition, the coup de grace was certainly dealt Thursday, the rivalry between Pogacar and Vingegaard has everything to become the crystallizing soap opera for the next few years. There is, at bottom, something refreshing about it. When the Slovenian fell in the descent of the Spandelles, how many, in the place of the Dane, would have jumped at the chance to outrun his rival ?
Vingegaard, on the contrary, deemed it better to wait for Pogacar to get on the saddle and come back to him. No doubt the offering was not totally disinterested, the yellow jersey finding there a companion of ascent. But the image of the “check” between the two fellows has already toured social networks and represents a model of sportsmanship. Their hug at dusk of each stage is a new classic, and the Slovenian’s smile is in no way diminished by his defeat on a regular basis (1’04 behind at the finish, 3’26 overall).
If he sabers the champagne on Sunday, Vingegaard will be able to serve a double cup to Wout van Aert. After three weeks of racing, it is really hard to find the superlatives describing the height of its performance. Starting as usual in the first breakaway, from kilometer 0, the Belgian led the train he was forming with a still frustrated Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), and a finally offensive Daniel Felipe Martinez (Ineos-Grenadiers). but too fair.
Better, he passed the Col de Spandelles in the lead, until he glimpsed a polka dot jersey finally gleaned by Vingegaard from the nose and beard of a Simon Geschke (Cofidis) in tears. Wout van Aert’s prowess turned irrational when his pace in Hautacam’s biggest percentages was such that it cracked an incredulous Tadej Pogacar, while allowing Vingegaard to launch to victory. By dint, it will be difficult to convince neophytes that Van Aert, finally third at the finish after having controlled his effort and let Pogacar pass, is anything but a born climber.
Behind the two heavyweights, the extent of the gaps makes one dizzy. There is a chasm between the Pogacar-Vingegaard duo and the rest of the world. Third overall, Geraint Thomas (Ineos-Grenadiers) is eight minutes from the Dane.
His place on the podium seems assured, however, because David Gaudu, new fourth, is three points behind (11’05). The Breton from Groupama-FDJ hung on, once again helped by Valentin Madouas, to grab a place. Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic), fifth, is relegated two minutes behind Gaudu, and should not catch up on Saturday’s time trial.
On the other hand, the case is much less good for Romain Bardet (Team DSM, 16’11). His last top 5 hopes faded as the slopes of Hautacam steepened.