Jonas Vingegaard predicted as much. The evening before stage 17 of the Tour de France, the Jumbo-Visma rider suggested that the final climb of the Col du Portet would be “man against man,” and so it proved.
After UAE Team Emirates had whittled down the yellow jersey group on the lower slopes of the climb, Tadej Pogačar unleashed a rasping attack with 8.5km to race. Vingegaard was the first rider to track Pogačar there, and when the maillot jaune kicked again a kilometre later, he was only one of two men able to follow.
The third man in that elite group was Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), and he left it to Pogačar and Vingegaard to exchange turns as they steadily drew away from the rest of the general classification contenders.
Vingegaard is new to contesting the podium at a Grand Tour, but he is not naïve. He soon realised that Carapaz’s grimace was a mask rather than a window into his soul. Wise to the bluff, Vingegaard was braced for Carapaz’s inevitable attack, but he was still unable to follow when the Ecuadorian kicked 1300 metres from home.
As the summit drew near, however, Vingegaard was able to claw his way back up to Pogačar and Carapaz. The yellow jersey powered clear to take stage victory, while Vingegaard have enough in hand to overhaul Carapaz and take second on the stage, three seconds down.
“Every time we were looking back, even when we were going easy, Carapaz was looking like he was suffering a lot. And I was thinking, ‘OK, for sure he’s going to do a good attack in a moment,” Vingegaad said. “When he attacked, I couldn’t go with him, and I just found my own pace. Luckily, I could come back and then I could get second in the end.”
Second place on the stage also lifts Vingegaard to second place overall, 5:39 behind Pogačar and four seconds ahead of Carapaz. More importantly, the Dane gained almost two minutes on Rigoberto Uràn (EF Education-Nippo), who drops to fourth at 7:17. Paris is still three days away, but Vingegaard has at least one foot on the podium.
“I mean I’m super, super happy about how it went today,” Vingegaard said. “Of course, I would have loved to have taken a stage win, but second is so really great for me. I’m super happy about it, especially as I took some time on Uràn. So yeah, I’m really happy about today.”
On Mont Ventoux on stage 12, Vingegaard became the only rider on this Tour to drop Pogačar, and he looked to pile on the pressure where he could on the Col du Portet, too, though the Slovenian never conceded so much as an inch.
“There were moments that I was thinking that least I could fight for the stage win,” he said. “Tadej is really, really strong, so second for me is still really amazing.”
Jumbo-Visma set out from Brest two-and-a-half weeks ago primed to carry Primož Roglič to the overall victory that slipped from his grasp at the death last September, but their race was blighted from the outset, when the bulk of the team went down in a mass crash on stage 1.
Roglič himself fell heavily two days later and left the race at the end of the first week, while Robert Gesink and Tony Martin was also forced out by crashes. The team was reduced to just four riders on Wednesday, when Steven Kruijswijk abandoned through illness.
Yet despite those setbacks, the team has enjoyed success on this Tour. Wout van Aert won over the Ventoux in Malaucène, while Sepp Kuss soloed to victory in Andorra on Sunday. Those victories, however, have been outshone by Vingegaard’s remarkable reconfiguration as a team leader.
The 24-year-old was only publicly drafted into Jumbo-Visma’s Tour plans in April, when it became certain that Tom Dumoulin, then on hiatus, would not compete at the event. By then, Vingegaard had underscored his potential with notable displays at the UAE Tour, Settimana Coppi e Bartali and Itzulia Basque Country, but he arrived at this Tour to ride for Roglič rather than serve as an auxiliary leader.
“I don’t think we predicted it, especially not at the very beginning on the race, but we knew Jonas was super strong and we had complete confidence in him today,” Kuss said when he stopped in the mixed zone on the Col du Portet.
“I always knew that he was really talented. I think last year I always thought of him more as a rider for the punchy climbs, but every race he does he’s better and better in the big mountains. And especially today, it was such a hard mountain stage in the third week and he’s with the best riders in the world.”
And yet, Jumbo-Visma’s riders and staff will wonder how their race might have played out had Roglič escaped ill fortune in the opening week. While Vingegaard has impressed on this Tour, Pogačar has been in a race of his own for much of the race. It might have been different had Vingegaard been racing in tandem with Roglič.
“I think it would have been a really interesting race,” said Kuss. “With those two guys, we could have had another tactical piece to play.”
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