In the fifteenth stage of the Tour de France, run on Sunday 16 July before the last scheduled rest day, the confrontation between the Danish Jonas Vingegaard and the Slovenian Tadej Pogačar was still very open. After two weeks of attacks and replies, today’s two rivals par excellence in cycling were separated by just ten seconds. Then there was the rest day and at the restart the only time trial stage of this Tour, with some uphill parts: everything changed from there.
The time trial of 18 July was clearly won by Vingegaard with a gap of 1 minute and 35 seconds on Pogačar, already remarkable in itself if we consider that both are excellent timekeepers and that until then their gaps had always been calculated in seconds. And the outcome of that time trial in a certain sense anticipated what would have happened the following day, in the awaited mountain stage between Saint-Gervais and Courchevel: 166 kilometers with one climb after another.
For Pogačar the last true alpine stage of the Tour de France began with a crash a few kilometers from the start which immediately complicated things. Fourteen kilometers from the finish he then had his definitive collapse: he broke away from the group which also included Vingegaard, who instead took advantage of it by gaining an overall lead of 7 minutes and 35 seconds in the general classification, a huge amount four days from the end.
Thursday was a flat stage in which the gaps remained unchanged: Vingegaard in the yellow jersey, Pogačar at 7 minutes and 35 seconds and all the others behind, very far away. At the end of the stage, Pogačar spoke briefly to the press of what happened to him, to which he still can’t seem to be able to give an explanation: «I still don’t understand what happened. The first two weeks went well and I was optimistic. Maybe my preparation wasn’t good enough.”
Pogačar had started 2023 with excellent performances, but then had to stop due to a fractured left wrist sustained in a fall at the end of April during the Liège-Bastogne-Liège. After that crash he had ridden only two races and had therefore arrived at the Tour as an underdog, or at least without being considered the big favorite on a par with Vingegaard, who was also the reigning champion.
After the results of the last stages, one wonders whether to return to winning the Tour de France as he did in 2020 and 2021, he shouldn’t have to give up the one-day classics in the spring, thus adopting Vingegaard’s approach, for which the Tour de France is the only big goal of the season. This year the Dane has only participated in stage races preparatory to the Tour, avoiding the classic monuments, and the results are showing, just as they were seen in his victory last year.
Vingegaard’s performances, however, are also attracting discussions of other kinds. The anti-doping controls to which he has frequently been subjected in recent days have fueled the questions of the journalists present at the Tour and the director of theTeam he wrote that “answering these questions is one of the responsibilities that come with wearing the yellow jersey.” And to the Dutch press, Vingegaard replied by saying: «I can say that these are not the times of Lance Armstrong. We run with fuel different from Armstrong’s. The sport is clearly different now. I’m happy to have won Tuesday’s time trial and I’m 100 percent sure that no one will ever take away my victories.”
On Friday, riders in the Tour de France will tackle a gently climbing 172km stage from Moirans-en-Montagne to Poligny. Saturday there will be the last mountain stage – through the Vosges with arrival at the Markstein ski resort – which could affect the general classification, but will hardly touch Vingegaard’s first place. At the end of this stage the winner of the Tour will be certain. The next day, Sunday, the race will conclude with the traditional Paris “catwalk”.