Like death and taxes, there are two certainties on this Tour de France. By now, sweltering heat and Tadej Pogačar attacks are simply part of the daily rhythm. Jonas Vingegaard and Wout van Aert discussed the former behind the podium in Foix, where they temporarily swapped their sodden yellow and green jerseys for ice jackets.
"Today was so humid. It was much drier on the other days," Vingegaard said, not in complaint but as a simple statement of fact. Van Aert nodded his assent as he climbed aboard his bike to warm down, and they soft pedalled side by side as they waited for the podium ceremonies to begin. One day less.
Vingegaard had dealt comfortably with the soaring temperatures to this point, and he didn't appear to be remotely discommoded by the additional humidity that characterised stage 16 over the Port de Lers and the Mur de Péguère.
In much the same way, Vingegaard had responded promptly to Pogačar's every acceleration so far on the Tour, and he maintained that record on the first day in the Pyrenees, even when the Slovenian sought to turn up the heat in unexpected places. Vingegaard finished the day alongside Pogačar, 5:54 behind stage winner Hugo Houle (Israel Premier Tech) to maintain his overall lead of 2:22.
"I'm just trying to do my best every day," Vingegaard said. "I know Tadej will attack me, so every day is about trying to follow him and not leaving any gaps to him. Of course, there's also a lot of other riders I have to follow if they attack. I did that today."
Pogačar's first acceleration came near the top of the Port de Lers with 59km still to race, and Vingegaard tracked it immediately. There were shades of Contador and Schleck in 2010, when they both stalled shortly afterwards and eyed one another. Pogačar, inevitably, kicked again, but still, Vingegaard didn't cede an inch.
On the way down the other side, Pogačar flung himself onto the offensive once more, and one thought of Merckx and Ocaña on the Col de Menté, but Vingegaard's descending was nerveless. The danger was soon snuffed out and the duellists sat up to allow the rest of the podium contenders to catch them up.
"I expect him to attack me on every moment, I just have to be ready," Vingegaard said afterwards, when asked for his thoughts on going head-to-head with Pogačar so far from the finish. "Does it suit me? Well, I think at least it's not bad for me to go early. For me, I have the feeling that the harder it is, the better."
Tuesday's stage was the first of an imposing troika in the Pyrenees and the first since Vingegaard lost two of his most valuable teammates, Primoz Roglic and Steven Kruijswijk. Their absence and the specifics of the parcours meant that Jumbo-Visma opted for an adventurous distribution of resources, with Wout van Aert and Nathan Van Hooydonck dispatched in the early break, while Sepp Kuss served as Vingegaard's sherpa behind.
"I think today it was very important to have someone in the break, because the final climb was very steep and it was very possible Jonas could have been isolated at the top," Van Aert said. "But Sepp is very strong and he was up there. Still, it was the best tactic for me to be out in front, it meant I could wait for Jonas in the finale. With three riders in the yellow jersey group, it was easier to respond to any attacks."
By then, Pogačar had, at least temporarily, been discouraged in his endeavour. His teammate Rafał Majka set a tempo on the Mur de Péguère that ended Romain Bardet's podium challenge and temporarily distanced third-placed Geraint Thomas (Ineos), but when he snapped his chain shortly afterwards, the UAE Team Emirates' offensive abated. As he did atop the Lers, Kuss took up the reins on the approach to the summit, then Van Aert led down the other side into Foix.
"It wasn't only Sepp, the whole team was incredible today," Vingegaard said. "Christophe Laporte and Tiesj Benoot were pulling first, then Sepp took over on the climb. And we had Wout and Nathan waiting out ahead for us. We have a strong team and luckily today I was able to follow Pogačar."
A year ago, Vingegaard dropped his rival on Mont Ventoux and battled gamely against him in the Pyrenees, but there was still something of a gulf between the two when they reached Paris, where Pogačar claimed overall victory by over five minutes. That gap has closed markedly on this Tour, but then again, Vingegaard, who famously worked part-time in a fish factory until he turned professional with Jumbo-Visma, perhaps had ample margin for improvement.
"I've worked with Tim Heemskerk as my trainer since I turned professional in 2019. I think if you asked Tim, he would tell you I was not a professional when I started with this team," said Vingegaard. "I think I've grown a lot with the work we've done."
Pogačar can bear witness to that, though that won't dissuade him from continuing his onslaught on the next two days in the Pyrenees, which feature summit finishes at Peyragudes and Hautacam. The problem for the defending champion, however, is that the man currently in yellow is showing no signs of feeling the strain.
"I don't feel like my condition is going down, at least," Vingegaard said. "I feel like I recover really well in a Grand Tour. I feel the rest day was needed after my crash, but I'm actually looking forward to the next days."
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.