A frenetic stage 14 reached a crescendo on the final climb, a HC ascent, when Pogačar attacked his Jumbo-Visma rival a few kilometres from the summit.
The UAE-Team Emirates rider built an advantage of six seconds but Vingegaard closed the gap towards the summit. With 700m to go to the top, and with both riders engaged in a cat and mouse game, aware of bonus seconds on offer, Pogačar sprinted out of his saddle to try and distance the Dane.
But a close motorbike stalled the Slovenian’s attack and Vingegaard later counter-attacked to take five bonus seconds. The duo then rode the descent together before Pogačar finished second behind stage winner Carlos Rodríguez of Ineos Grenadiers to take four bonus seconds. The upshot was that Vingegaard increased his advantage in yellow to 10 seconds, up one second from the day before.
“It’s a shame [as] I think my first sprint was for nothing,” Pogačar lamented. “That’s a pity. But it wouldn’t have changed the outcome I don’t think.
“I still felt that I lose effort in my legs because I could no longer sprint for the bonus. I screwed that up. But it is what it is.”
Joxean Fernández Matxín, the manager of UAE-Team Emirates, was also annoyed by the motorbike. “It’s circumstances [that happen but] the rules from the UCI are that the car has to be 25m ahead. Being two metres in front is unacceptable.
“In this moment there were a lot of public and many times the motor protects the rider but from a distance… but this is cycling, this is life, we continue with the same ambition tomorrow.”
Grischa Niermann, the Jumbo-Visma DS, agreed that the incident was unfortunate. "I think at one point Jonas and Tadej both had to slow down because the motors couldn't pass with all the public," he said. "That's a pity, and it's getting to the point where they have to think about putting barriers on the last 3/4km of the climb."
UAE, however, were not trying to use the motor incident as an excuse for not taking more time back on Vingegaard in what is a thrilling, closely-fought battle.
"It was a good day for us," Pogačar reflected. "We were really strong. We tried, it was not a perfect day, but we saw a lot, learned a lot and we go with a positive head and positive mind into the next days.
"It's a really hard stage tomorrow, then it's the time trial [on Tuesday], then Wednesday and then also stage 20. Four stages to decide [everything]. It's going to be really tight but, yes, I am confident."
“The momentum is similar to yesterday. it doesn’t change a lot,” Matxín added. “It’s only one second. In the sprint for bonuses on the Joux Plane it was a strange sprint. Tadej attacked but then in the last corner it was smart of Vingegaard to anticipate and to go three seconds in front of Tadej. And then Tadej took two seconds from Jonas [at the finish]. It’s one second lost, but the battle continues.”
Stage 15 terminates with a summit finish into Saint Gervais-Mont Blanc, but given how matched the pair are the race for yellow is highly unlikely to be anywhere near settled before the second and final rest day. Tuesday’s uphill time trial is expected to be more decisive.
“It will be another battle [tomorrow] and Jumbo will continue with their pace,” Matxín predicted. When asked whether the time trial will be more important, he said: “Yes, obviously. Every day they are on a similar level, they have similar characteristics. Three days he [Pogačar] took seconds back, but today with the circumstances Jonas took a second.
“What counts if the final race result. To lose a second is not a lot, but it’s better to be in front.”
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