When Tadej Pogačar closes his eyes in whichever hotel the Tour de France organisers have deigned to give UAE Team Emirates tonight, he will surely see Jonas Vingegaard.
The Slovenian promised to attack at every opportunity going into this final week, and has tried his best, but has simply not been able to budge his Danish rival from his wheel. Jumbo-Visma's Vingegaard has the advantage, the more than two minute lead he built on the Col du Granon still standing strong, so he does not need to do anything. It is Pogačar that needs to break his rival, not the other way round.
The two-time defending champion still thinks this is possible, explaining after the stage that tomorrow is the "D-Day that we need to get everything" on.
"I think I know what I need to do to take the minutes back," the 23-year-old said. "Tomorrow is a good day for that."
There are problems with this theory. There has not been a moment in this Tour so far where Pogačar has looked like getting anything like the 2-19 he needs to climb back into yellow. In fact, of the 30 seconds that he has taken from Vingegaard over the 17 stages so far, only eight seconds have not been in bonus seconds. This is small change compared to what he needs.
Secondly, Vingegaard thinks tomorrow is more of a day for him than stage 17, the day where he managed to cling onto Pogačar, despite being attacked, and isolated, and only lost time through bonus seconds. Four seconds.
"In the end it was a hard day today, and I think Tadej made good attacks," the Dane said post-stage. "I was happy to follow, but he won the stage. I think a finish like this doesn't suit me so well, it's like Planche des Belle Filles. I think tomorrow will suit me better."
Thursday's stage lays claim to be the hardest of this edition, with 4,036 vertical metres being tackled in just 143.2km. The peloton will tackle the Hors Categorie climb of the Col d'Aubisque before the first category Col de Spandelles. The finish will be on top of the Hors Categorie Hautacam, the final big climbing test of this year's race.
"Of course I'm happy that I didn't lose time today, only four seconds, I think I can be happy with that," Vingegaard said after the stage. "As I said before in this Tour, I think longer climbs are better for me."
If Pogačar is promising all-out attack, and Vingegaard is as good at the longer climbs as he claims to be, it might just be stalemate rather than fireworks in the Pyrenees.
Another thing counting against the Slovenian is his lack of support, with UAE Team Emirates reduced to just four riders on Wednesday, having lost Rafał Majka before the stage. This leaves Pogačar with just Mikkel Bjerg, Marc Hirschi and Brandon McNulty for the last days.
On stage 17, McNulty and Bjerg in particular helped their leader enormously, with the former surviving to the finish and coming third; their work shredded the lead group down to just Pogačar and Vingegaard, helpfully depriving the latter of any teammates. However, two days in a row might be a tough ask.
"I think Brandon deserved the win today, he really worked hard," Pogačar said post-stage. "I wish we had our climbers team here today, but Brandon showed that he can do it just like four climbers. I was really happy with my stage win, this was for all my teammates. Today we saw that we are strong, and we will keep fighting.
"Today was an optimistic day for the team, Mikkel Bjerg and Brandon was amazing, and tomorrow is the D-Day that we need to get everything. We wished for more, but a stage win is always something special."
Vingegaard has not fared much better. While his Jumbo-Visma squad still had six riders, the Dane has lost two of his most useful allies in the mountain in Primož Roglič and Steven Kruijswijk, and so is just down to Sepp Kuss in terms of pure climbers.
He said he still had confidence in his team post-stage, although he briefly forgot to name green jersey wearer cum domestique deluxe Wout van Aert when listing his colleagues.
"I only have to follow Tadej," Vingegaard pointed out. "Sepp was super strong, with the five best, but McNulty was one of the three best today."
A good omen for the Jumbo-Visma rider is that tomorrow's stage goes over two climbs that have seen Danish success before: "For Danish cycling, they are super important climbs," he explained.
Bjarne Riis won at Hautacam on his way to overall victory in 1996, Denmark's only Tour win to date, while Michael Rasmussen won on the Col d'Aubisque in 2007. Of course, both these results were chemically-enhanced, but Vingegaard can take spirit from the Danish nature of this part of the Pyrenees.
Pogačar seems like he will try everything to claw back yellow, and win for the third time, but it might be out of his grasp. There are only four stages left, with tomorrow's mountain stage and Saturday's time trial the only serious threats to Vingegaard's lead. So far, he has not looked like blowing up on the road.
"Tomorrow is another day to try, and we will try," Pogačar said, because he has to. "The harder the race gets, the better it is. We will see tomorrow if he has any weaknesses."
Asked if he felt comfortable in his lead, felt confident that he would win, Vingegaard would not be drawn. "We will see in Paris," he said. "It's hard to tell, I don't know."
By this time tomorrow, we might well know.
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