Tour de France: Tadej Pogačar turns the tables on Vingegaard with incredible comeback

As comebacks in Tour de France history go, this was something special

Clock17:16, Thursday 6th July 2023
Tadej Pogačar: 'I would not say revenge, but it is sweet to win today and take some time back'

Velo Collection (TDW) /Getty Images

Tadej Pogačar: 'I would not say revenge, but it is sweet to win today and take some time back'

At the stage 6 start line in Tarbes, the mounting consensus was that Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma), the strongest rider on stage 5, would put all of his rivals to the sword and assume the mantle of leadership in this year’s race. The only question was when - rather than if - he would demonstrate his superiority.

Come the end of an epic day in the Pyrenees, the Danish rider would indeed find himself in yellow but the manner in which he slumped over the handlebars at the finish in Cauterets-Cambasque told the real story. Pale of face, and with sweat dripping from his worried brow, Vingegaard looked out of place for a man who had just taken the lead in the biggest race in the world. A few metres away, the sight of a grinning Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) provided the explanation.

24 hours earlier, Pogačar looked a spent force in this year’s Tour when he was dispatched by Vingegaard on the first day in the mountains but the Slovenian is nothing if not resilient. On a day in which Jumbo-Visma looked utterly untouchable, it was the UAE rider who had the final say, attacking Vingegaard with 2.7km to go on the final climb and putting 24 seconds into the Dane to take his 10th career stage win in the process.

On the face of it, such a time gap may seem relatively small, but given the added bonus seconds on the line, and the shift in momentum, it was easy to see why the UAE camp was the more emphatic as they surrounded their comeback king.

Vingegaard may be in yellow but, after such a bruising defeat at the hands of his arch-rival, he knows that he has a fight on his hands. With Pogačar now just 25 seconds in arrears, this edition is well and truly alive, even if the battle is down to just two riders.
“I would not say revenge, but it is sweet to win today and take some time back. I feel a little bit relieved and I feel much better now,” said Pogačar.

“Who wouldn’t [be worried] after the display showed by Jonas Vingegaard yesterday? It was incredible and when they started pulling on the [Col du] Tourmalet I was thinking, ‘shit, it’s going to happen again like yesterday, we can pack our bags and go home.’ But luckily I had good legs today and could follow on Tourmalet quite comfortably. When I felt it was the right moment in the end, I attacked and it was a big relief.”

As for the rest of the contenders, they were scattered to the wind, first on the Col du Tourmalet and then once more on the final ascent. The body language of Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe), Simon Yates (Jayco-AlUla), Carlos Rodriguez (Ineos Grenadiers) and others said it all when they were all immediately dropped on the upper slopes of the Tourmalet with around 50km still to race. From that moment on, they seemed to resign themselves to a fight for third in this year’s race, with even Hindley, the winner of stage 5 and the yellow jersey, ceremoniously put in his place by Jumbo-Visma’s superiority.

In the end, Hindley led home a group containing Yates and Rodriguez at 2:39, while the damage done to the other team leaders was even more devastating. Hindley is now third at 1:34, and while that too might not seem like a chasm in time, even he must know that a yellow jersey in Paris is beyond him.

Jumbo-Visma’s cruel intentions

Few would argue that there is a stronger team in this year’s race than Jumbo-Visma, who have, in Wout van Aert, the most complete rider in the peloton. The Belgian has the versatility and verve to attack at will, no matter the terrain, and it wasn’t long out of Tarbes that he was flexing his muscles and spearheading a breakaway.

Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal-QuickStep) joined Van Aert alongside James Shaw (EF Education-EasyPost), Nikias Arndt (Bahrain-Victorious), Bryan Coquard (Cofidis), Benoît Cosnefroy (AG2R Citroën), Chris Juul-Jensen (Jayco-AlUla), Jonas Gregaard (Uno-X), Tobias Halland Johhanessen (Uno-X), Gorka Izaguirre (Movistar), Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates), Michał Kwiatkowski (Ineos Grenadiers), Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Matis Louvel (Arkéa-Samsic) and Krists Neilands (Israel-Premier Tech). Later on, Ruben Guerreiro (Movistar), Anthony Perez (Cofidis), Oliver Naesen (AG2R Citroën), Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost), and Kasper Asgreen (Soudal QuickStep) joined the fray as Bora-Hansgrohe patrolled the front of the main field.

Cresting the Côte de Capvern-les-Bains with a lead of just under three minutes, it was Powless who snaffled up the early mountains classification points as Asgreen and Van Aert traded turns on the early slopes of the Col d’Aspin.

With 82km remaining, and the gap at just over three minutes, Jumbo-Visma moved to the front of the peloton. After putting time into Pogačar on stage 5, the intention was to do the same for a consecutive day in a row and attempt to bury the Slovenian before the first rest day.

All looked well for the men in yellow and black, with Christophe Laporte tapping out an increased pace on the climb as up ahead Van Aert lined up the break with seeming ease. Once more, Powless picked up maximum points over the climb to regain the KOM jersey before Bora-Hansgrohe moved back to the front as the race dived down the descent and meandered towards the Col du Tourmalet.

With 58km to go, the gap between break and peloton stood at 4:55 but Jumbo-Visma returned to the front of affairs, and this time with intentions clear for all to see. Up the road, Van Aert pushed on the pedals, reducing the lead group to just a handful of riders, while Dylan van Baarle and then Wilco Kelderman set about dismantling the peloton.

Van Baarle’s efforts softened the field but it was Kelderman who blew the race to pieces, with only Vingegaard, fellow Jumbo-Visma rider Sepp Kuss, Pogačar and Hindley able to follow as the remnants of the yellow jersey group splintered all over the climb in alarming fashion.

Even Hindley was forced to relent with 4km still to climb and when Kuss took over from Kelderman it looked as though the entire Tour de France was slipping firmly into Vingegaard’s grasp.

Then, with 48.3km to go, Vingegaard took over. Like his acceleration on stage 5, he rose from the saddle with a blistering turn of pace but this time Pogačar was able to hold firm, glueing himself to the Dane’s back wheel as the gap between the pair and the yellow jersey ballooned out to two minutes.

On the long descent, Vingegaard and Pogačar linked up with Van Aert and what was left of the break, including Kwiatkowski, Powless, Shaw, Guerreiro and Johannessen.

Back in the bunch, UAE Team Emirates and Ineos Grenadiers set tempo at 1:55 but by the time they reached the lower slopes of the climb to Cauterets-Cambasque, the gap had stretched out to over two minutes as Van Aert emptied the tank in what will go down as one of the most astonishing performances from a super domestique ever seen.

One by one, the riders from the early break began to crumble - first Powless, then Shaw and Guerreiro, before only a valiant Kwiatkowski remained in contention after Van Aert finally ground to a sudden halt.

When Kwiatkowski was distanced with 3.7km to go, Vingegaard still looked ready to assume the position of the likely stage winner but, as the pedal strokes ticked by, it quickly became apparent that Pogačar was at least his equal. Then with 2.7km to go the two-time winner came around Vingegaard and, in a breathless moment of Tour de France action, dropped the Jumbo-Visma leader.

The gap held at under eight seconds at first but, as the line approached, Pogačar turned the screw to undo so much of Jumbo-Visma’s work, not to mention their air of invincibility.

The destiny of this year’s Tour de France is far from decided.

Dan Lloyd's GCN Analysis

It’s rare that a plan in pro cycling is carried out to the letter. There are too many variables, a constantly evolving situation that you need to adapt to on the road.

Jumbo Visma’s master plan on stage 6 was carried out to the letter. They controlled the controllable, i.e. their own riders’ performances. Their undoing was ignoring the uncontrollable, i.e. other riders’ performances, which in that instance was that of their main rival, Tadej Pogacar.

Alarm bells should have been ringing when Pogacar was still with Vingegaard as he made his attack on the Col du Tourmalet. Those alarms should have been a few decibels louder when he was still there at the top, and then deafening when he followed Vingegaards’ move on the climb to Cambasque. Continuing to set his tempo at the front was a big mistake by Vingegaard on that climb, and not helped by his sports director telling him that Pogacar was on his limit, audio which was heard after the stage.

The result? Pogacar has completely flipped the morale tables on their head, and more than halved his deficit on the GC. Under normal circumstances, going into the yellow jersey would be accompanied by a feeling of euphoria for any pro rider - I can’t imagine any rider has been more disappointed with the circumstances of taking the Tour de France race lead than Jonas Vingegaard was yesterday.

Race Results

1

si flag

POGACAR Tadej

UAE Team Emirates

3H 54' 27"

2

dk flag

VINGEGAARD Jonas

Jumbo-Visma

+ 24"

3

no flag

JOHANNESSEN Tobias Halland

Uno-X Pro Cycling Team

+ 1' 22"

4

pt flag

GUERREIRO Ruben

Movistar Team

+ 2' 06"

5

gb flag

SHAW James

EF Education-EasyPost

+ 2' 15"

6

au flag

HINDLEY Jai

BORA-hansgrohe

+ 2' 39"

7

es flag

RODRIGUEZ Carlos

INEOS Grenadiers

"

8

gb flag

YATES Simon

Team Jayco-AlUla

"

9

gb flag

YATES Adam

UAE Team Emirates

+ 3' 11"

10

fr flag

BARDET Romain

Team dsm-firmenich

+ 3' 12"

Provided by FirstCycling

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