Jonas Vingegaard takes advantage of 'nice surprise' to wrest Tour de France away from Tadej Pogačar

It is only stage five, and yet 53 seconds separates the two favourites for this year's race. Has the tide already turned?

Jonas Vingegaard on stage five of the Tour de France 2023
(Image credit: Getty Images)

"Pau has the world's most beautiful view of the earth just as Naples has the most beautiful view of the sea," the 19th century French polymath Alphonse de Lamartine said of the Pyrenean city where stage five of the Tour de France began, and where many of the teams will be heading after an electric stage on Wednesday.

Opinion will be split, however, on just how beautiful the view is from Pau, or just how beautiful the Pyrenees are, now. While some, like stage winner and new yellow jersey Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe), or the resurgent Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) can reflect on beauty on their drive back to Pau, others will not be as lucky. Unlike the last time the Tour came to Laruns, Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) was not victorious, and ended up conceding 1-38 to Hindley and 1-02 to Vingegaard. 

It might only be stage five, but the first mountain stage of this year's race could yet prove decisive. For those expecting the Tour to be a two-horse race, a duel for the ages between Vingegaard and Pogačar, then this a big shakeup, a big step forward for the former's defence of his title.

There was no super elation from Vingegaard or his Jumbo teammates as they turned up back to their bus; a solitary "YES!" when the Danish rider got onto the bus the only excessive celebration. They are, naturally, taking it stage by stage.  

He and his team were surprised with how easy it seemed to drop and put time into their biggest rival, the man who seemed to be taking time and bonuses at will on the opening two stages in the Basque Country.

Asked if he was surprised at the time gaps, Jumbo-Visma directeur sportif Merijn Zeeman replied: "Actually yes, of course. It was a nice surprise, a good surprise."

"It was good," he continued. "Jonas did a fantastic climb. We had a good plan, it worked out well. But it's day five of the Tour de France, so let's stay calm and tomorrow is another hard day, but this day was good."

There was no bigger plan to blow the race open on Wednesday, Jumbo insisted, just that they took advantage when the moment presented itself.

"First of all, the plan was to have a few guys in the break," Vingegaard explained post-stage. "We ended up with three, to have a satellite rider. More in some kind of defence, actually, because we didn't think this was the perfect stage for me. Then when they started riding on the last climb, I knew I had good legs, so I told Sepp [Kuss] to go on the front, he did, and then I decided to attack as well."

It seems so simple when described laconically, but the decisiveness and the power of Vingegaard's attack was stunning, as was Pogačar's lack of ability to follow.

"I wanted to test him a bit, and my legs were good," the Dane explained. "I'm super happy with where I am, super happy with taking a minute. That's a good time gain for me."

The plan, to force UAE to chase all day, was helped by the presence of Hindley, who started the day just 16 seconds behind Pogačar, but Wout van Aert and Tiesj Benoot helped pile the pressure on. Pogačar was isolated by the time the race hit the final climb, the Col de Marie Blanque, which Vingegaard used as his launching point.

"No [we didn't know Pogačar was on the limit], but of course, they had to work very hard behind that group," Zeeman explained. "First [Rafał] Majka was gone, and then it was down to him and [Adam] Yates, and it was a good opportunity for us to see if there was a possibility today. 

"Maybe Pogačar could have followed Jonas, but today was a hard one, then it was a good opportunity to test them, and it worked out well.

"It was a scenario which we discussed, but there were a lot of possible scenarios. We had to find out which one was the best one today."

Talk of tensions within Jumbo between Jonas Vingegaard and Van Aert seem a long time distant, even if it was just a few days ago; the latter willing to work hard for no individual glory, but team success.

"It was very clear how good the spirit in the team is," Zeeman argued. "Wout could win this stage, and he gave everything to be in front and make UAE work so hard."

It might look like it is decisively advantage Vingegaard, but there is still a long way to go - 16 stages, in fact, including another hard day in the Pyrenees on Thursday. There is also the small matter of Jai Hindley, who Jumbo are not taking lightly.

"He's the Giro winner, he's one of the few that have won a Grand Tour, so he's very good, very strong," Zeeman said. "Today he had the balls to do it like this, so big compliments to him."

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