After two days of attacking, time gains and losses in the Pyrenees, Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) were able to enjoy a quiet day at the Tour de France on the long flat ride to Bordeaux. The duo, separated by 25 seconds in the overall standings, played GC mind games rather than launching any major attacks on Friday.
As Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) caught and passed Mark Cavendish (Astana Qazaqstan) in sight of the finish line, ending the Manxman’s hopes of taking a record 35th stage win, Vingegaard finished 22nd, carefully protected by Jumbo-Visma teammate Christophe Laporte. Only Wout van Aert was absent after sitting up in the final kilometres. He finished 148th at 3:05 and so slipped to 16:05 in the general classification, enough time to allow a go in the expected attacks in the finale of stage 8 to Limoges on Saturday.
Pogačar, meanwhile, was positioned just behind Vingegaard, protected in the fast finale by his road captain Matteo Trentin.
Pogačar joined Vingegaard in the podium area to pull on the best young rider’s white jersey for another day. He enjoyed his now usual one-minute dip in the UAE Team Emirates ice-bath to lower his core body temperature.
“It was nice until we went full gas in the final 40km, it was a pretty good day,” Pogačar said, clearly happy for the trio of Simon Guglielmi (Arkéa-Samsic), Nans Peters (AG2R-Citroën) and Pierre Latour (TotalEnergies) to hang off the front at that point in the race.
Vingegaard agreed. With temperatures touching 33 Celsius in the southwest of France, he started the stage with an ice-vest covering his new yellow jersey and warmed down post-stage with another one, as his press officer Ard Bierens held up a large portable fan.
“Today was very hectic in the end and so I think all the GC riders extended the three-kilometre rule before the corners. I think it made it a lot safer,” he said, thanking the UCI judges and the rider’s CPA association who agreed to the change where the overall classification times are taken in case of an accident, at 3.5km to go instead of 3km.
Vingegaard distanced Pogačar on stage 5 to Laruns and took the yellow jersey on stage 6 to Cauterets even though he lost time to Pogačar, who won the stage. Vingegaard took the GC lead after he and Pogačar distanced Jai Hindley over the Col du Tourmalet, and he insisted he is happy to have it, despite all the extra attention and obligations.
“I think it’s a lot better to be 25 ahead than 25 seconds behind,” Vingegaard said, sending a clear message of strength to Pogačar and everyone else.
“I’ll always choose having the lead. Before this Tour de France, we didn’t expect to be leading at this point, so to be in front is actually a perfect situation for us.”
Vingegaard was quizzed about his 24-second time loss to Pogačar on stage 6. Instead of cracking the Slovenian on the Col du Tourmalet and taking control of the Tour de France, Pogačar turned the tables on his rival, attacked him on the climb to the finish in Cauterets and gained time.
Instead of being over, the 2023 Tour de France proved to be very much alive.
Vingegaard put his time loss down to just an early, bad day but refused to reveal if he or his performance team had looked at his data and understood exactly what went wrong.
“I feel like I’ve felt in the last two years at the Grand Tours,” Vingegaard insisted. “My worst days have always been in the first week, and especially the first few days. I won’t say I’m bad, but I have a feeling that I then get better day by day.”
The next battleground for the Vingegaard-Pogačar showdown should be on Sunday on the legendary Puy de Dôme mountain finish in the Massif Central.
Vingegaard will stay vigilant during the rolling stage to Limoges on Saturday and so rest up for round 8.
Pogačar was also cautious, despite dragging himself back into the fight for yellow with his attack on Thursday. Older and wiser after his 2022 defeat, Pogačar knows there are still two weeks and three weekends of the Tour de France still to race.
“My morale is good, very good,” he said. “For sure we still have a good chance but there’s still a long way to go. To win we need to save the legs of yesterday.”