Cyclists are all amateur physicists, we’re good at judging momentum. We know how far up the next rise in the road it will carry us, we sense when our tyre choice is robbing us of some of it and we know when to put another sinew to the sword to maintain it.
Tadej Pogačar is no different. He enters the second week of the Tour de France with a gentle breeze blowing at his back while he remains essentially tied with yellow jersey holder Jonas Vingegaard, a paltry 17 seconds separating them.
“For sure I feel that I have some sort of momentum but I don’t know if over Jonas,” the Slovenian told the world’s press on the first rest day. “I just feel good every day. Today was a good rest day and I’m ready to go racing again tomorrow. I’m really happy so far with this Tour and feeling day by day better.”
Vingegaard struck the first blow of the Tour when he put a minute into Pogačar by dropping him on the Col de Marie Blanque but since then the punches have all been Pogačar’s. He took time back on the opening week's two uphill finishes to narrow the gap to what it is now.
In the process the race for yellow has been turned into a mano-a-mano affair with third place Jai Hindley (Borad-Hansgrohe) 2-40 back.
Yet there is still more than half of the race left to run and Pogačar now starts that with momentum in his favour. He thinks he has another advantage too. “When I came to the Tour there’s less pressure and it’s a bit different feeling than when you defend yellow for sure. It’s a big difference,” he said.
It’s hard to get a handle on how much Vingegaard is feeling the dual pressures of defending the title and holding the jersey because he and his team broke with tradition and did not hold a rest-day press conference, opting to put out a one-on-one interview recorded for Danish TV2.
In it the Danish ace tried to project confidence, although shying away from the more forensic examination yellow jersey holders get from a press pack on a rest day over the three questions they face after a stage didn’t exactly help further that narrative.
“We believe that we can win the Tour again this year,” he said. “And we will absolutely do our best to attempt to do so.”
Vingegaard professed to be “quite happy” with how the Tour’s opening week had gone. “We kind of expected that we would be behind at the moment and then have to gain some time from now on. But that is not the scenario at the moment. We are very happy to be ahead. And yes, I lost eight seconds yesterday, but I don’t think eight seconds will make the difference,” he said, Laurent Fignon presumably turning in his grave.
He was also bullish on how the Alps would play to the GC riders different qualities. “Some of the stages to come will feature more than one mountain and the entire day will be up and down and not just a mountaintop finish. So far, the only days that has accumulated fatigue has been stage five on the Marie Blanque. Those are the days that suit me the best and in the next two weeks there are days that suit me even better,” he said.
He even said Jumbo-Visma have a plan to “crack” Pogačar as they did last year on stage 11 when the hitherto unbeatable Slovenian finally showed some weakness. However, that plan hinged on Pogačar and UAE Emirates responding to the threat of Primoz Roglic, then 2-52 off the yellow jersey that was on Pogačar’s back. They have no such threat at this Tour with their second best rider, Sepp Kuss, 6-45 away from yellow.
Indeed it is UAE Emirates that now has a card to play in former yellow jersey holder Adam Yates who sits fifth on GC albeit 4-38 down.
Vingegaard is perfectly capable of winning this Tour and there are indeed opportunities for him to do so conclusively. But Pogačar enters the Tour’s decisive moments with the momentum in his favour and despite his upbeat words I'll bet Vingegaard knows that - he is a cyclist after all.
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