Tour de France on a knife edge for Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogacar ahead of final week - Blazin' Saddles
After a week that belonged to the Danes on the Tour de France, Jonas Vingegaard enters the final phase of the race with a 2’22” lead over Tadej Pogacar. Vingegaard was one of three Danish stage winners during a sweltering week on the Tour as he wrested yellow from Pogacar’s back. But after losing two key team-mates on Sunday, the 25-year-old’s bid for glory is in the balance.
'He is in a great position now' - Jumbo woes play into Pogacar's hands
When the elastic finally snapped and Jonas Vingegaard powered clear of the man in yellow on the Col de Granon, Jumbo-Visma’s troubles a week earlier on the cobblestones of northern France seemed a world away. If Vingegaard was the only rider to trouble Tadej Pogacar in last year’s Tour with a little dig near the summit of Mont Ventoux, this clinical attack – which came after a constant barrage of pressure throughout Stage 11 – marked the time the Slovenian superstar cracked for the first time in his short but illustrious career.
Nothing split the two riders the next day on Alpe d’Huez, nor could Pogacar shrug off Vingegaard on the steep service road to the airstrip at Mende on Saturday. But in the space of 10 calamitous minutes on Sunday’s stiflingly hot Stage 15 to Carcassonne, the wheels threatened to come off Jumbo-Visma’s Tour once again.
The team had already entered the stage one key man down after Primoz Roglic decided to call it a day to prepare for the defence of his Vuelta triple crown following the litany of injuries he sustained on the stage to Arenberg. A nasty fall for Steven Kruijswijk then ended the dependable Dutchman’s race in a flash – only for Vingegaard to have his face pushed in it when hitting the deck hard with team-mate Tiesj Benoot moments later.
Vingegaard emerged unscathed from the spill but Benoot was fairly bashed up. Suddenly the pendulum has swung back in favour of Pogacar in his bid to swap white for yellow in the Pyrenees. The two-time champion was already down two riders – Vegard Stake Laengen and George Bennett both victims of positive Covid tests last week – but the absence of Kruijswijk and Roglic will surely be more keenly felt by Vingegaard than the Norwegian and Kiwi for Pogacar.
'It all started to unravel' - Breakaway on bad day for Jumbo Visma
Potential ambush day on road to Foix
The Tour resumes on Tuesday with a 178.5km Stage 16 where the intense heat could prove as challenging as any of the four categorised climbs along the route. The first of three stages in the Pyrenees contains the least climbing and the only flat finish – but make no mistake, serious damage can be done on the daunting combo of the Port de Lers and Mur de Peguere in the final third.
Both climbs are around 10km long and the final 3.5km of the Peguere plays out on double-digit gradients that can cause some real damage. The most likely scenario is that both Pogacar and Vingegaard will ride clear of everyone else – as they did on La Super Planche des Belles Filles. But if there’s a gap over the top, the fast and technical descent to Foix could be a platform for an ambush – especially given the race will be blown apart before the summit so it’s likely to be each man for himself all the way to the line.
Tour de France 2022 – Stage 16 route profile
Image credit: Eurosport
Both UAE and Jumbo Visma need to be wary of Ineos
While Pogacar and Vingegaard are both down two men, Ineos Grenadiers have a full compliment of riders and two men still in the top five. It would be wholly unlikely to see either Geraint Thomas (third at +2’43”) or Adam Yates (fifth at 4’06”) win this Tour given how they have had to ride their own tempo on climbs merely to stay in contention or limit their losses.
But should one of the two be prepared to jeopardise their own GC chances in favour of the other – much like Primoz Roglic did for Vingegaard with his succession of attacks on the Galibier last week – then we could well have more than a two-horse race on our hands. With Tom Pidcock also back in the top 10 following his win on Alpe d’Huez, Ineos have enough peripheral threats to ask some serious questions of the men in yellow and white.
What’s more, they have a full train to whittle things down before launching any move. Play their cards right, and Ineos could do more than simply maintain the status quo of a podium for Thomas, a top five for Yates, and a top 10 for Pidcock – as impressive as that would be in itself.
Adam Yates and Geraint Thomas of Ineos Grenadiers
Image credit: Getty Images
Wout van Aert needs to hold off for a few days
The Belgian has clearly been given some kind of free reign in this race – it’s the only thing that explains him getting in the breakaway early on Sunday and then, once his team were on the ropes, contesting the final sprint in Carcassonne. Van Aert came second for the fourth this time Tour as compatriot Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) opened up his account, but he came dangerously close to coming to grief on the home straight in a tangle with rival Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo).
It would have been a completely idiotic crash given he already has two wins in the bag and a lead of over 200 points in the green jersey standings. Van Aert now needs to put his own ambitions aside for a few days in which he sticks to team-mate Vingegaard like glue. It’s not as if Van Aert is being permanently muzzled: he will be among the favourites for the remaining sprint stages to Cahors and the Champs-Elysees, plus the time trial in between. But he really needs to be sensible and professional about the situation he finds himself in.
Even with his green jersey ambitions taken into consideration, Van Aert remains one of the most dependable domestiques in the business. There’s nothing stopping him from adding more wins in this Tour – but Vingegaard’s yellow must now be a priority for Jumbo-Visma.
Wout Van Aert and Jonas Vingegaard
Image credit: Imago
Pyrenean double deader to decide the Tour
Survive the tricky road to Foix and then it will all come down to the two mountaintop finishes in the Pyrenees. If they provide even half as much excitement as the Granon-Alpe d’Huez double header last week, then we’re in for a treat.
Neither stage gets close to the four 2,000m peaks in the Alps – the Col d’Aubisque (1,709m) on Thursday is the highest point in the third week – but that won’t limit potential damage deep in the third week with weary legs, intense heat and a lack of team-mates but three factors at play.
Tour de France 2022 – Stage 17 route profile
Image credit: Eurosport
If the longer climbs of the Alps suited Vingegaard more than the shorter, punchier climbs where Pogacar came into his own in the opening week, then the Pyrenees should see the pendulum swing back towards the Slovenian. All the more so since Jumbo-Visma won’t have the firepower now to do damage from early on – producing a scenario where it’s more of straight battle between the big two.
A lot will depend on whether Pogacar’s implosion on the Col du Granon was a one-off – a bad day resulting from over-exuberance on the Galibier and a poor feeding strategy later on – or if it was symptomatic of Vingegaard having far better legs this July. Pogacar himself said after his second win at La Super Planche that his Danish rival was “the best climber in the world”. At the time it looked a bit like gamesmanship dressed up as a compliment – but perhaps Pog was simply saying it as it was.
We will have a better indication of who the best climber of this Tour is on the steep airstrip at Peyragudes on Wednesday and then at Hautacam on Thursday. Coming after the HC Col d’Aubisque and the new climb of the Spandelles, Hautacam will probably decide this race. It just remains to be seen if Pogacar can turn the tables, or if he’ll be found out again by Vingegaard.
Tour de France 2022 – Stage 18 route profile
Image credit: Eurosport
How much time does Vingegaard need before final TT?
Good question. And one that’s practically impossible to answer. But let’s try anyway.
Pogacar beat Vingegaard by eight seconds on the opening 13.2km time trial in Copenhagen and by 35 seconds earlier in the season on the 13.9km TT in Tirreno-Adriatico. Last year, Vingegaard beat Pogacar by 35 seconds in the 30.8km Stage 20 TT – but the Tour was already sewn up by then and the Slovenian did not need to produce a result. Indeed, it was his victory in the Stage 5 TT – where he beat the Dane by 27 seconds over 27.2km – that put Pogacar on the brink of the yellow jersey in the first place.
From this it would be logical to estimate that Pogacar could take one second per kilometre back on Vingegaard in the 40.7km TT to Rocamadour next Saturday. Perhaps more when you consider he entered the decisive TT in the 2020 Tour 57 seconds down on compatriot Roglic yet ended up with a 59-second lead going into Paris.
Of course, while there are a couple of short climbs towards the end of the Rocamadour test, it’s not a comparable parcours to the 6km uphill finale on La Planche des Belles Filles two years ago. So, let’s say that Vingegaard needs around one minute advantage as a safe cushion. The flip side of this is that Pogacar perhaps only needs to claw back 82 seconds in the Pyrenees as opposed to the full 2'22" by which he trails his rival now.
'It's a surprise' - Breakaway team impressed by Vingegaard Tour de France heroics
Who, if anyone, can deliver a win for the hosts?
Another good question. It’s getting quite desperate now for the French with zero wins from 15 stages. And they need joy in the Pyrenees because there’s next to no chance we’ll see a French winner in the time trial or the remaining two sprint stages. So, essentially, we’re looking at a win coming from Romian Bardet (Team DSM), Warren Barguil (Arkea-Samsic) or one of Groupama-FDJ’s climbers – David Gaudu, Thibaut Pinot or Valentin Madouas.
Bardet and Gaudu are too much of a threat on GC so that reduces things to Barguil, Pinot and Madouas. While Pinot has come close, he seems doomed to come up short in this Tour, while Madouas has been rather out of sorts. As for Barguil - he's a previous winner in Foix back in 2017, but you sense that he went so deep on the Granon last week that he may never recover. Perhaps Pierre Rolland (B&B Hotels-KTM) can save the day like he did by winning Stage 19 in the 2011 Tour?
Warren Barguil of France and Team Arkéa - Samsic crosses the finish line during the 109th Tour de France 2022, Stage 11 a 151,7km stage from Albertville to Col de Granon - Serre Chevalier 2404m / #TDF2022 / #WorldTour / on July 13, 2022 in Col de Granon-S
Image credit: Getty Images
It’s not just the French who are struggling: while the Belgians, Australians, Slovenians, Dutch and Danes have all won multiple stages this year, there are still no wins from Spain or Italy either. A Tour de France without a stage winner from one of cycling’s so-called Big Three nations must be unprecedented.
Will any sprinter double up?
So far none of the peloton’s fast men have won more than a single stage with the few bunch sprint spoils shared between Fabio Jakobsen, Dylan Groenewegen and Jasper Philipsen. Mads Pedersen and Michael Matthews have won stages but expertly from the breakaways, while Wout van Aert has two wins but on hilly terrain.
If Peter Sagan seems like a busted flush and Max Walscheid too much of an outsider, you sense that the likes of Caleb Ewan and Alberto Dainese could come good at either Cahors or Paris. Jakobsen will be without his pilot after Michael Morkov battled in vain to miss the cut in Carcassonne, which makes Groenewegen or Philipsen as most likely to win another bunch sprint.
'He gets it by half a wheel' - Philipsen takes Stage 15 sprint finish on the line
Can Geschke hold on to polka dots?
There are still 111 points up for grabs in the King of the Mountains competition, which puts Simon Geschke’s slender lead into context. The German has 46pts but will face stiff competition for the polka dot jersey from Louis Meintjes (39pts) and Neilson Powless (37pts).
Italy’s Giulio Ciccone (35pts) and Frenchman Pierre Latour (35pts) could still be a factor but the most likely threat to Geschke comes from the GC riders: Vingegaard (36pts) and Pogacar (26pts) could both dethrone the Cofidis rider with stage wins at either Peyragudes or Hautacam – although the most likely scenario is the rider who takes the 20pts over the HC Col d’e l’Aubisque, the first climb of Stage 18, is likely to secure the polka dot jersey.
The Dane's winning margin will come down but it will still be above one minute come Paris... Pogacar for polka dots and white, Van Aert (of course) green, plus a third stage win at some point. Philipsen to win on the Champs-Elysees. No French or Spanish stage winners - but Alberto Bettiol or Filippo Ganna will spare Italian blushes.
- - -
Stream the Tour de France live and on-demand on discovery+. You can also watch all the action live on eurosport.co.uk.