Pogačar and Vingegaard on Spandelles

We’re 18 stages into the Tour de France now. It’ll wrap up in Paris on Sunday, but it was decided today.

Let me set a tiny bit of the stage. Tadej Pogačar, the two-time defending Tour champion, rides for UAE. He won his first Tour championship on the final time trial in a shocking fashion over his countrymen and rival, Primoz Roglic, who rides for Jumbo-Visma.

Primoz left this year’s Tour a few days ago after he suffered, and struggled through, a shoulder dislocation. Which is to say that, on Stage 5, Roglic crashed, put his own shoulder back into place and continued riding for nine more days. One of those days where he suffered and struggled was critical. Roglic and his Jumbo-Visma team laid out a plan to break Pogačar on the Col du Granon in Stage 11. It was powerful, beautiful and the first time in his three Tours de France (or anywhere else, of which I am aware) that Pogačar has been overwhelmed.

On that 11th stage Roglic’s Jumbo-Visma teammate Jonas Vingegaard stormed his way up the Granon climb and claimed the yellow leader’s jersey. For the last week, then, Vingegaard has had a two-minute lead on Pogačar. (Pogačar is now wearing the best young rider’s white jersey. Despite his immense success, he’s only 23 years old.)

Which brings us to today. The Alps are behind them. They’re leaving the Pyrenees. It was Pogačar’s last real chance to reclaim the yellow jersey, and, thus, Vingegaard’s last challenge. Both of their teams have been reduced because of Covid and the attrition brought on by a difficult Tour. And with about 40 kilometers to go, Pogačar began his attacks.

Vingegaard was there for every desperate turn of the pedals. By the penultimate climb, the two of them were alone. On the descent Vingegaard almost crashed in a turn, but he somehow saved a stoppie. Almost immediately after Pogačar overcooked a turn and found himself in a shallow ditch.

He was back on his bike before he came to a halt in the crash, but Vingegaard and his yellow jersey were down the road. Now Pogačar had to storm back. He had to take even more risks on this risky descent. His Tour was slipping away from him.

And then Vingegaard sat up and waited on his rival, allowing Pogačar caught up to the race leader. Here’s the capture.

They played it safe the rest of the way down, their race would wait until the final climb, the legendary hors catégorie Hautacam. There Vingegaard, using the wings provided by the yellow jersey, dropped Pogačar once more, extended his lead to an inevitability.

The Tour has shown us great racing for three weeks, but the image above is the one to remember. It’s a wonderful moment in a Tour that longtime viewers and experts are coming to agree just might be the best ever.

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