Harold Wilson might have said that a week is a long time in politics, but at this year's Tour de France, 24 hours seems like an eternity. On Wednesday, it appeared that Jonas Vingegaard had vanquished Tadej Pogačar once again on the road to Laruns. On Thursday, the vanquished became the vanquisher as Pogačar put time into Vingegaard on the climb to Cauterets, setting up an electric race. It is only stage six.
Pogačar, the UAE Team Emirates rider, won the stage, while Vingegaard of Jumbo-Visma took the yellow jersey from Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe). However, the swing of 24 seconds back to Pogačar was significant, and proved there was a point in this Tour. On Wednesday evening the race seemed over; on Thursday evening it seems more alive than ever.
"I was not dead yesterday," Pogačar stressed post-stage win, but obituaries were already being written for this year's Tour last night, with Vingegaard seemingly flying, unbeatable. It seemed like only a matter of time until he would seize yellow from Hindley and storm towards Paris without trouble. The former may have happened, but the latter is still very much up in the air.
Jumbo-Visma seemed to have a plan for stage six, to shred the peloton on the Col du Tourmalet and isolate Pogačar, similar to Wednesday, giving Vingegaard a chance to take more time. What they did not expect was a resurgent Pogačar, a resurrected one, one that could dispatch of Vingegaard at will.
"Honestly, I thought when Jumbo started pulling on Tourmalet I was thinking ok, if it’s the same as yesterday, then we can almost pack the bags and go home," Pogačar said. "I stayed on his [Vingegaard's] wheel, I played it smart today. I think the shape is coming along everyday. We must not give up, and we will ride like this to the end. It’s still going to be a big fight, but I’m super happy for today."
Pogačar was able to follow Vingegaard and his key domestique Wout van Aert over the top of the Tourmalet, and then stick to Vingegaard until it was just the pair on the final climb. With 2.7km to go, the 24-year-old launched his decisive attack. It might not have resulted in as big a time gap as Vingegaard's on Saturday, but it was a clear morale-boosting conclusion, proving that this race was only heading one way.
"I was already thinking for the last 4km if I wanted to attack," Pogačar explained. "I got on the radio to follow Jonas and go smart. Going smart would be going even earlier, but I was suffering all the way to the finish line. I gave it all. It was just enough, maybe if I went earlier maybe I would explode on the flat part or something. It was a good day, I try to feel the race. You need to have balls to attack. In the end, I tried my best."
The mood within the UAE team camp was apparently not funereal on Wednesday evening, despite the fact that the plan had gone wrong on stage five. On Thursday, it was the time for Jumbo's plan to be foiled, something Pogačar was sympathetic to.
"That’s cycling," he said. "You can have plan a, b, c, d, e, f... the whole alphabet. You can have plans, and anything can happen. It’s really difficult. Yesterday we also had a plan, but we totally missed it.
"Today, Jumbo didn’t miss the plan, but they tried it, and they didn’t succeed, because in cycling it’s so difficult to follow the tactics. There are so many circumstances you need to think of. And it’s difficult to predict if it’s going to work or not. That’s cycling."
Pogačar's stage win was a big result in and of itself, the Slovenian's 10th at the Tour at just 24. If he kept up his record of winning three at every edition, it would take him eight more editions - until he was 32 - to break the all-time stage wins record, as is currently shared by Eddy Merckx and Mark Cavendish, both with 34.
"It feels good, it feels amazing," the UAE rider said. "I was joking before that I’m coming for you Mark Cavendish. That’s a bit cocky to say, but I’m really happy to have just one stage win. It’s something incredible to have a stage win at the Tour de France. I was just as happy as when I [first] won three years ago."
A happy, buoyed Tadej Pogačar. A cowed, beatable Jonas Vingegaard, although he does lead the race. This Tour de France is very much alive.
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