Tadej Pogačar attacks down a descent during stage 11 of the 2024 Tour de France. He's all alone, trailed by only a TV camera moto through a twisty corner.

‘Attack with the yellow jersey, that is the tactic’: Pogačar looks to light up Tour whatever the result

A day of action gave clues for the second half of the race, but mystery remains.

Jonny Long
by Jonny Long 10.07.2024 Photography by
Gruber Images & Cor Vos
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Tadej Pogačar’s thought for the day, given to the TV cameras before the start of stage 11, was that despite tactics and mind games, legs ultimately win the Tour de France.

That may be true, but with Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and Jonas Vingegaard (Visma-Lease a Bike) once again separated by only the smallest of margins at the stage 11 finish, this may turn into such a finely fought battle that any slight advantage devised by team management or drawn from a psychological barrage could make the difference when we eventually get to Nice.

“Now we can say it’s a fair fight,” Pogačar began his post-race press conference. “Today was a really interesting stage. In my eyes, if I was a fan watching on TV, this was one of the best stages ever. On my side I’m a little disappointed, I didn’t take the win, but I feel really good.”

One section of the mental gymnastics course Pogačar has had to tackle when sizing up his main rival has at least been settled now.

“Now everyone can see he’s in good shape,” Pogačar said. “Best shape of his career I think, if you ask me.”

Vingegaard’s triumph in the sprint for the stage win was his first ever versus Pogačar, something that surprised the Slovenian, but after a tough day, Pogačar refused to read into it too much, saying the Dane was only 5 cm faster than him, and that he deserved the victory.

As Visma boss Richard Plugge cheered and doled out backslaps when his rider was confirmed the winner, and as Vingegaard released pent-up emotion now knowing he’s back where he should be, the stage post-mortem could now begin at the buses, in the press room, online, and in living rooms around the world.

Was Pogačar, reaching into his pockets searching for the final globules of gel in empty packets, under-fuelled again as on that fateful 2022 day on the Col du Granon? Is Vingegaard successfully riding himself into the race, and is he just biding his time until we get to the Pyrenees? Is Pogačar’s relentless attacking an attempt to soften his opponent up, to be on the front foot and hopefully leave Vingegaard exhausted by the third week?

One thing that Pogačar did clarify was that he wasn’t looking to make a gap in the downhill of the Puy Mary, despite having done just that, at one point nearly tripling the 13-second advantage he had to Vingegaard over the top.

Tadej Pogačar on stage 11 of the 2024 Tour de France.

“I just wanted to make a gap on Puy Mary. I knew this gap really well and the downhill was a lot for pedalling. I really don’t see any weakness of Jonas in the downhill,” Pogačar explained.

“Also, you can see him in the bunch, if you’re watching 200 km stages, he’s really focused. I think after the crash for sure he was scared a bit but now in the Tour he’s really confident. I was not thinking about making a gap on the descent, on the descent you still had to push hard on the pedals, I just wanted to make a gap on the Puy Mary, the steep part, I was thinking I could go from there to the finish alone like I did on the Galibier … but he was there.”

While Pogačar was on the podium in yellow, chewing on a snack as he fueled and fueled and fueled – and with Jonas Vingegaard concurrently choking up again on France TV, realising how far he’s come – the UAE Team Emirates bus was quiet.

Partly, this was because it was stationed at the very top of a slope containing all 22 team buses, and fans and journalists alike opted to visit other buses in closer reach.

João Almeida arrived back at the bus first, getting on with his warm down in silence. Juan Ayuso was next, an arm coming around him from a staff member, asking if he’s okay. The Spaniard quietly said yes – in the way you say yes when you don’t 100% mean it – and climbed straight onto the bus. Ayuso finished 4:39 down, slipping to 9th on GC, now the fourth best-placed rider from UAE Team Emirates.

Team manager Matxin Fernández then appeared, quickly getting the media out of the way before his main rider returned. He couldn’t comment, he reminded us, on what happened out on the road because he hasn’t seen Pogačar yet.

Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard on stage 11 of the 2024 Tour de France.

At the end of four minutes of being peppered with questions and not giving too much away, he was unequivocal in what the plan will continue to be going forward.

“Attack with the yellow jersey, absolutely that is the tactic,” Fernandez said. “Attack. It’s not the defensive, it’s the offensive.”

If Pogačar is going to keep yellow on his shoulders until Nice, it will be because of his own actions. Once again, a scintillating duel appears to be upon us: a defending champion almost overawed that he’s back here and with a shot of winning three in a row, and a challenger who is ready to leave everything on the road to create not just a spectacle for fans, but to sate his own need to race. To race to win.

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