Mountains and mentality should settle Tour de France struggle

When current leader Jonas Vingegaard and defending champion Tadej Pogacar roll up the Champs-Elysees next Sunday, the cyclist in the yellow jersey will have endured an epic 21-day struggle for supremacy. Two-time winner Pogacar of the UAE Team Emirates was billed as the nailed-on certainty in the run up, but for now the Slovenian sits second trailing 2:22 behind the Dane. We take a look at the factors most likely to settle the enthralling struggle that has attracted blockbuster crowds on the roadside and record television audiences starting with Tuesday’s stage 16.


Pogacar was dancing around playfully pouring water on stage winner Jasper Philipsen at the finish line on Sunday like some teenager at a pool with his pals. On the same day Vingegaard lost two teammates to injury and had to survive not only an early long range attack from his rival, but also a late fall, after which he threw his bike to the ground. Until then, the Dane had been a picture of calm, collected perseverance. Appearances can be deceptive but mental strength will be crucial.

The pressure is off Pogacar, he has won twice and now he is chasing he is less likely to be ganged up on by alliances of fortune between rival teams trying to topple him. Vingegaard conversely has had astonishing levels of service from the now departed pair Primoz Roglic and Steven Kruijswijk. These two did most of the damage in the series of searing attacks that saw Pogacar flounder so badly on the Col du Granon where he was knocked off his perch by the Jumbo collective effort and alliances. By Monday Pogacar was full of enthusiasm.

“There will be opportunities. We are all tired physcally and mentally. But I’m going to try everything,” he said.


The next three stages will see the peloton roll into the high mountains. After witnessing such a turn of fortunes in the Alps, there is every reason to expect attempts to effect another revolution in the Pyrenean climbs to Peyragudes and Hautacam and also at the first installation that ends in a 25km largely downhill run to Foix where Simon Yates raced to a daring triumph in 2019.

Asked why he had attacked at Megeve this week Pogacar seemed offended. “Its a race, that’s racing, expect me to keep trying,” said the champion. Before Pogacar’s bad day on the Col du Granon, where he dug deep within himself to limit his damages, the pair had appeared evenly matched.

The first of the three Pyrenean challenges ends with a daredevil descent. Pogacar’s sense of fun, mastery of his vehicle and taste for an attack bode well for a thrilling finale at Foix.

The second one climbs to Peyragudes, where French climber Romain Bardet once won, which will serve as a reminder that neither of the top two is guaranteed anything.

But the third day has been designed to provide the sporting challenge and a panorama worthy of a legendary hero. Simply put, the Tour de France should be decided on the climb to Hautacam on stage 18, with a total of 28 miles at a steep average eight percent gradient awaits.

The last word

If the champion is still trailing going into the final day he might be heartened to recall his first Tour de France triumph in 2020 when he overhauled the leader Roglic, who went into the last real day of racing over 90 seconds ahead. Stage 20 is a 24.8 mile individual time-trial where on paper Pogacar could pulverize Vingegaard in a similar manner. But after 19 stages and a heatwave it is impossible to predict exactly who will have what left in the tank.

RBA/AFP Photos: Sprint Cycling Agency

Get real time updates directly on you device, subscribe now.

Comments are closed.