Jonas Vingegaard is preparing for an explosive last stand in this year’s Tour de France as climbers in the peloton prepare to go all-in on the penultimate stage in the Vosges.
On the eve of his final dance, the Dane, and all his marquee rivals, saved their legs, having just finished one of the fastest-ever stages on Friday, 13 minutes and 43 seconds down on winner Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious).
Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) was typically succinct speaking in his daily press conference as the race leader when asked about Saturday’s 133.5km run from Belfort to the Le Markstein Fellering ski resort.
“I think for sure tomorrow is going to be really explosive. It’s the last mountain stage and I think the guys in the bunch saved their legs for tomorrow,” he said.
The defending champion’s team have compared Saturday’s stage – that features no less than six categorised climbs – to last year’s run to Hautacam, which Vingegaard won ahead of Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates).
The 26-year-old has more than seven minutes on Pogačar and his UAE Team Emirates teammate Adam Yates, who are currently second and third, respectively, on general classification. However, Jumbo-Visma sports director Merijn Zeeman said there’s still much to play for.
“It’s a very hard stage,” Zeeman said. “It’s the third week, everyone is tired but there are still lots of things to fight for: mountain jersey, stage win, all the different places in the GC starting from the 10th place to the podium.
“We will follow our plan and we will race like we always do but cycling is with 22 teams, and I think you will see a lot of different things tomorrow with a lot of different interests. It will be left out all on the road, and everyone will go full gas.”
Pogačar kept his cards close to his chest when asked about tactics, after conceding the fight for the yellow jersey on the slopes of the Col de la Loze on Wednesday.
“It’s going to be pretty tough, I hope my legs, body and mind have recovered,” the Slovenian said. “It’s been a tough couple of days, so let’s see.”
Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) was more open about his plan of attack. The injured Australian slowly dropped from third to seventh overall after a high-speed crash on stage 14, but showed signs of improvement on the Col de la Loze and is up for the contest.
“Regardless of how I’m feeling, I think all-in. It’s only 130 kilometres and, what have I go to lose? But I think everyone will be like that,” he said.
There are big gaps in the GC top 10 , but still room to move. The contest for the polka-dot jersey is also tight, with Giulio Ciccone (Lidl-Trek) holding a slender six-point advantage on Felix Gall, the motivated AG2R Citroën rider who celebrated a stage win in Courchevel earlier this week.
“After the queen stage, after the victory, of course, I mean, everyone is tired now, we’re in the third week, but it cost a lot of energy,” Gall said. “I am just looking forward to when it’s over.”
Character has been a talking point of the third and final phase of this exhaustive and mountainous Tour, and it might be that which prevails again on Saturday.
But then again, the climbers have had two days to ‘recover’ since leaving the Alps. Bora-Hansgrohe sports director Rolf Aldag believes the nature of this year’s route has affected the rhythm of the race.
“It feels like on that level the bunch is, everybody does recover on the sprint stages and puts even more into the mountain stages,” Aldag said.
“So it’s not a constant draining like next day, next day, next day, it’s more like, okay, I’m really tired, it was so hard that mountain stage, but then two days sitting in the bunch spinning your legs, being surrounded by your teammates, and then on the third day you’re like, well, actually I feel good again. I do think that has influence on the race rhythm and on how hard these mountain stages were ridden.”