A pack of riders climbs the Col du Galibier in the 2011 Tour de France. The road stretches down the steep slope behind them before switchbacking far below.

Andy Schleck: ‘Vingegaard is my main favourite’ for the Galibier

The 2010 Tour de France winner predicts a major showdown coming, with the two-time defending champ showing he's as good as ever.

by Daniel Benson 02.07.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos
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Stage 4 of the Tour de France promises to be a mouthwatering affair with a super-early mountain encounter and a destined showdown between Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), Jonas Vingegaard (Visma-Lease a Bike) and the rest of the GC contenders on the slopes of the 2,627-meter Galibier. 

The stage may not end with a summit finish – rather a long descent into Valloire – but with three categorized ascents, the second-highest summit of the 2024 Tour, and a jaw-dropping 3,900m of climbing, it’s destined to shake up the GC at this year’s race. 

There have been many famous Galibier encounters over the years but one of the most recent champions of the climb is Andy Schleck, who won the Tour in 2010 and took a famous stage on the climb a year later after going on a 60 km attack. That 2011 stage commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Galibier’s first appearance in the race, and was the first and only time the Tour has ever finished on its summit.

Now working as part of the Tour organization, Schleck cast his eye over the top two favourites for this year’s race, before giving the nod to Vingegaard as his yellow jersey favorite. 

The race has already seen the pair go on the attack on stage 2, with Vingegaard laying down an important marker after following an attack from his main rival, and Schleck believes that the duo will be relishing the chance to go head-to-head on a sizable climb this early in the race.

“Even though it’s early in the race, we’ve had three tough days that have been full of surprises, but you need to take the big weapons out on stage 4 because there’s a chance to gain time,” he said. 

“I think we’ll see the big guys definitely battle on the Galibier. Pogi is getting nervous and doesn’t like to sit in the bunch, Vingegaard showed what I expected, and that he’s ready. He’s my main favourite. It’ll be a big showdown with the Sestrières climb, the Col de Montgenèvre, and then the Galibier. They’re all tough climbs and it’s a proper mountain stage.”

The Tour has never had such a demanding mountain stage this early in the race but we saw fireworks on stage 2 when Pogačar attacked on the final climb of San Luca and only Vingegaard could follow. Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-Quick Step) and EF Education-EasyPost’s Richard Carapaz made it across just before the finish line but the Dane and the Slovenian already look a step ahead this year. Pogačar gave up his race lead to Carapaz after stage 3 on count back on placings but Schleck is expecting Visma-Lease a Bike to put the hurt on during Tuesday’s pivotal stage. 

“On stage 2 I think Pogi wanted to get out there and just move his ass, have fun and race,” Schleck said. “I think he’ll do the same on stage 4 but Visma will have a fair chance to also try and grab time on Pogi because it’s 3,600m and in the past, we’ve seen that high altitude isn’t always his strength. If I were Visma, I would give it a go tomorrow, and then go all in.”

There were major question marks over Vingegaard’s form and health coming into the race following his horrific crash in April that left with him a pneumothorax and several fractures. He’d not raced a single day in the build-up to the Tour since that fall but has looked as impregnable as ever since the Tour started on Saturday. As far as Schleck is concerned it’s business as usual for the Danish rider.

“I’ve been saying for the last month, a team like Visma, with a six-star rider like Vingegaard, you don’t go to the Tour de France to play around, train or get back into shape. You come for a reason, and that’s not to put Jonas into the top five or top 10 or win a stage, it’s to win the race. You leave him at home if you’re not at the Tour de France for the victory. That’s why he’s here and from what I saw on stage 2 with the freshness he had and the ease with which he followed Pogi up San Luca, I think that he’s better. I think he’s at 100 per cent and maybe better than we’ve seen before if I’m honest with you,” Schleck said.

Andy Schleck punches both fists in the air as he crosses the line to win a stage of the 2011 Tour de France atop the Col du Galibier.
Andy Schleck won on the Galibier in 2011, the only time the Tour has ever finished atop the famous climb.

Schleck’s personal memories of the Galibier are certainly fond ones. In 2011 he attacked on the Col d’Izoard before soloing to the win atop the fabled climb. The next day he raced to the top of the Galibier and was first over the top after Alberto Contador forged clear and dragged Schleck with him on the road to Alpe d’Huez. The Galibier is a brutal climb: 23km in length with an average gradient of 5.1%. And just as Schleck did in  2011, the riders on stage 4 will take on the Lautaret pass before the final climb.

“My memory is a good one of the Galibier. I don’t know how many times I climbed it but I remember winning on top, and I remember the following day when we climbed from the other side after Alberto Contador had attacked and we were in the break.

“My memories of this climb are special and my advice is that you have to be adaptive as a rider because of the hardness of the Galibier. You have the Lautaret, and that’s a climb where you need to push big gears and big watts to keep the speed. Then you turn right and it’s the steep slopes of the Galibier where the gradients go up and there’s no shade at all during the whole process. You’re going from big gears to little climbs and with the lack of oxygen at those heights, it’s a good finish for Vingegaard,” Schleck said.

A repeat of Schleck’s barnstorming performance from 2011 is unlikely, especially so early in this year’s race, and with so many fresh GC riders and intact teams. However, the former Tour winner is expecting a full-on showdown between the key contenders, and if they have a gap at the summit, they should be able to hold that advantage to the line. 

“The tactic when I won in 2011 was different and no one will do that tomorrow. It’s too much calculation and it’s early in the race but we might have a breakaway and they might take up to 15 minutes. Often the Tour ends how it starts so we can see more surprises like we did on stages 1 and 2. It’s a fast downhill to the finish so if you have a minute at the summit, and you can ride your bike, then there’s a good chance that you still have that advantage at the line,” he said.

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