Jonas Vingegaard and his Jumbo-Visma teammates opted to keep a low-profile on the rest day in the French Alps but the Dane will start the Alpine mountain stages just 39 seconds down on Tadej Pogačar and is widely considered his biggest – if not only – rival in this year’s Tour de France.
The 25-year-old Dane lost some seconds in the opening time trial and on the cobbled stage, while Pogačar has accrued 18 others thanks to time bonuses. However, their abilities appear to be closely matched.
After nine stages in the 2021 Tour de France, Vingegaard was already 5:32 down and only became team leader in Tignes on the rest day when Primož Roglič was forced to retire due to his crash injuries.
Some observers have suggested that Vingegaard has done well to limit his losses on terrain better suited to Pogačar and perhaps has a real chance of taking on the Slovenian in the mountains and even stop him from taking a third consecutive victory.
“I’m still feeling good, it’s only been one week [of racing]one hard week of course, but the shape is good and hopefully I have some good days to come,” Vingegaard said on Monday before joining his teammates for a short ride in Morzine.
“Last year I was a bit more… not relaxed but let’s say pragmatic if something happened and it didn’t matter if I lost time. This year is the opposite; we don’t want to lose time. Being 39 seconds down on Pogačar is not nice but it’s the Tour de France and everything can happen.”
Vingegaard has become the primary leader at Jumbo-Visma once again after another Roglič crash, with the Slovenian losing two minutes after dislocating his shoulder on the cobbles of stage 5. Vingegaard also had problems on the stage – mechanical ones – but limited his losses to 13 seconds after a chase from teammate Wout van Aert.
“We did very well in the first stages, without crashing and losing time, but then in the first cobbled stages we had our bit of bad luck and we had a crash and I dropped a chain,” Vingegaard said.
“Looking back, that moment was pretty funny. I made a mistake, then the chain got stuck in the frame. I should have just stopped, pulled out the chain and put it back on. That would have been way faster than changing bikes four or five times.
“Ever since, the racing has been good again but Primož’s crash was not so nice and he lost a lot. But we will keep on fighting and there are still two weeks left in the Tour.”
Vingegaard admits that 39 seconds is not a huge gap but he knows he must gain them on Pogačar at some point, while also watching other rivals who are close to him in the overall classification.
Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) is third at 1:17 and his teammate Adam Yates is fourth at 1:25. Eight riders sit within two minutes of Pogačar, with Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic) at only 2:13 and a clear danger in the high mountains to come.
“It is not a lot and it’s only one bad day. But I guess Tadej doesn’t have bad days,” Vingegaard reasoned.
“He is very very strong and we will just have to do our best and try to challenge him. I also think there are a lot more riders that can fight for the victory. It is not only me and Tadej. There are a lot that can attack. We will just have to see in the next few weeks how everything will fall out.”
Jumbo-Visma has lofty goals for the 2022 Tour de France, with Wout van Aert also targeting stages and the green points jersey. The Belgian all-rounder has already struck twice and amassed enough points to virtually secure the green jersey.
That is reassuring for the Dutch team and also means he can now focus on helping Vingegaard take on Pogačar. On the rest day in Morzine, lead directeur sportif Merijn Zeeman returns to the Tour de France after recovering from COVID-19 to call the Jumbo-Visma tactics from the team car.
Jumbo-Visma appears to have a race plan for the Alps and Pyrenees, even if Vingegaard did not reveal it.
“We have a plan but we’re not going to say what it is. You have to see what the plan is. We’ll try to do our best,” he joked.
“We always have a plan but we also know that things can go wrong and it went wrong. Now we just have to look at everything and see what the best possible plan is.”
Jumbo-Visma’s game plan appears to include attacking in the mountains rather than waiting for the stage 20 time trial.
“I know I can do a good time trial but I know that Pogačar can also do a good time trial,” Vingegaard warned. “I wouldn’t be confident to count on my time trial at the end of the race. We’ll try in the next two weeks and we’ll see how.”
Vingegaard perhaps dropped a hint where he will attack by choosing his favorite place to win a stage.
“Probably L’Alpe d’Huez,” he said when asked to pick a stage. “It’s a special climb in the Tour de France, there’s always so many spectators and it’s a special mountain.”
The Jumbo-Visma game plan also means avoiding catching COVID-19.
The Dutch team has suffered a number of cases in recent months and riders and staff diligently wear huge beak-like face masks when not racing. Vingegaard had to walk through crowds of fans to go to training on Monday but only took off his mask when with his teammates.
“There have been some teams that have had some COVID-19 cases but we haven’t until now and I think we are feeling good,” Vingegaard said.
“Of course there is a chance you can get it. So I cross my fingers, I don’t have COVID-19 now and I can start on Tuesday.”