'We expect war every day' — Pogačar in race lead at Tour de France, but Jumbo-Visma ready to take fight to him

Two stage wins and the yellow jersey already for the Slovenian, but most of the climbs are still to come

Tadej Pogačar
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It was inevitable. Tadej Pogačar wanted to win on La Planche des Belles Filles again, and so it came to pass. Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe) tried his best to win the stage from the breakaway, but was foiled within the vertiginous final hundred metres. Then Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) put his best effort in, but it was just not enough to stop the Pog-lification of the stage.

This is just what seems to happen at the Tour de France, seemingly, his eighth at the Tour in just 49 stages, his second of this year's edition already. The 23-year-old has won more stages than 37-year-old Chris Froome already, a four-time Tour winner. After his wins on Thursday and Friday, it appeared like all hope might already be lost for an open GC battle this year. 

On Friday, sure, the UAE Team Emirates rider might have won again, and only extended his lead on the general classification, but it was also a reminder that the Tour is not over, that there are other live candidates for the yellow jersey.

The team best placed to do this is Jumbo-Visma, the Dutch team who came into the race with the leadership duo of Primož Roglič and Jonas Vingegaard. The former crashed on the cobbles on Wednesday and lost minutes in time, but looked strong on Friday, despite his injuries.

Vingegaard, meanwhile, had the audacity to attack Pogačar on the climb, and almost held on for victory. It was a reminder that he can still challenge the man he finished second to last year in this year's race. We are still only seven days into the Tour, and most of the big climbs are still to come. 

The Planche was just an amuse-bouche for what is on the menu in the days still to be raced; this is where Vingegaard is at his best, and it could be that he is better

"I feel a bit both ways," the Dane said post-stage. "I'm super happy that I felt super strong, but I was super close, it is a pity that he was able to overtake me in the last 10 metres. But I think I can be happy with my performance today.

"Finishing second and third is good, and I think we have two really strong leaders, and we have to use this in the mountains in the coming weeks."

Rafał Majka (UAE Team Emirates) appeared disbelieving of the idea that anyone could match Pogačar in the mountains, after he has proved himself more than adept on the flat, on the cobbles, and on the hills.

"In cycling, you never know, but I hope not," the Polish domestique said. "We are a strong team, nobody will say now that UAE are not here. George [Bennett], Brandon [McNulty], and all the guys, perfect working today. We can celebrate another victory, more champagne."

UAE have been more visible in the last couple of days, answering questions about their strength in depth compared to Jumbo or Ineos Grenadiers. 

"We always wanted to ride for the stage," Bennett said. "Planche des Belle Filles is a special climb, especially for Tadej. I don't know what we will do in the next few days, but I don't think there is a problem with having the jersey. 

"Every day in yellow is good and I think we survived the first week really well. I think we got some criticism cos we weren't all eight guys lining up, doing the old trains. Tadej always said 'guys, well done man'."

However, ultimately, Pogačar was still on his own at the end of the stage, while Jumbo had Roglič and Vingegaard, and Ineos Grenadiers had Geraint Thomas, Adam Yates, Dani Martínez and Tom Pidcock all up there.

This numerical advantage could prove crucial to the other team's chances of dethroning Pogačar, the two-time champion.

"Tadej is the best rider I've ever seen in my life, but I also know Primož and Jumbo are such a good team," Bennett said. "Maybe you don't beat him one on one, but you can set up a lot of situations, and they have an advantage of having two guys that are dangerous. That just means Tadej needs a super strong team around him. 

"The stronger you are, the more everybody tries to flick you, so you need a stronger team. As you become a better rider you need a better team. We've assembled a good team here, a very good team. I expect, I don't know what stage, but there will be one day where it just goes apes**t, Primož goes in the break, Sepp drops everybody, but something like that."

Bennett has inside information here, having switched between the two teams in the off-season, going from serving one Slovenian to the other.

"There will be a situation where we really need to be ready, and so we never underestimate them, we never get complacent," he continued. "We expect war every day. Maybe it's a sprint stage, and they put their big guys in the crosswinds. I've done enough crazy stages. I'm never complacent."

Vingegaard trails Pogačar by just 35 seconds; no time at all if something does happen in the Alps or the Pyrenees. Yesterday we asked "is this it?", but this might be premature. It also might not be - but Jumbo will not allow the rest of this race to be a procession.

"The finish is in Paris, not here, and we have a lot of climbs to go, we need to stick to our plan," is what team boss Richard Plugge had to say after the finish of stage seven.

Primož Roglič

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The one question mark for Jumbo-Visma is the state of Roglič. He finished third on Friday, but is suffering from the after effects of the crash on the cobbles, which left him with a dislocated shoulder, and more.

"Imagine every pedal stroke I do I have a knife in my back," he described. "The main goal is to go through these stages and try to recover.

"I'm definitely super happy about this [his third place]. When you're injured, you never know what to expect in the next days, but we have to take it day by day, try to go through, and recover for the next ones."

If Roglič was fit, he would be a great foil for Vingegaard, making moves that forced UAE to chase; attacking and shaking up the race. It remains to be seen how long he will stay in the race, or whether he will be willing to fully work for his Danish teammate if he has to.

"Primož is a fighter, we know that from the past," Plugge said. "Jump out of your car at 50km/h the other day and now climb up this hill like that, it's incredible. On the other hand, he has pain in the back. It's Primož, the big fighter of our team."

The Tour is not over, long live the Tour. There are still 14 live stages for the race to be won or lost on, now is not the time for despondency.

"You saw today how strong Jonas and Primož were, we're going to have a really big battle," Bennet said. "As a fan of cycling, I'm looking forward to it."

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