Tadej Pogačar leads Jonas Vingegaard up the Côte de San Luca climb on stage 2 of the 2024 Tour de France. Pogačar's tongue is out from the effort as Vingegaard stands on the pedals to match him. To their left, fans line several tiers on a pink sandstone building to cheer.

They meet again

A day later than last year, but Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard are lighting up the Tour de France once more.

Jonny Long
by Jonny Long 30.06.2024 Photography by
Gruber Images & Cor Vos
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In 2023, it took mere hours from the flag drop of the first stage of the Tour de France for Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard to start taking chunks out of each other and show themselves once again head and shoulders above the rest of the field.

Fast forward a year later, the pair’s individual maladies and potential impediments, as well as a less-enticing opening stage, meant a delay in the usual programming: they waited for stage 2.

More accurately, Tadej Pogačar waited for stage 2. The usual instigator, a more restless, playful character, who was always going to be the one to kick things off.

There was barely a second to wonder whether Vingegaard, who’s form was the biggest question mark before the Florence start, could follow, but immediately he was on the wheel, his reaction time quicker than would seem possible, especially for a man who was in a hospital bed barely three months ago.

“I just saw a lot of people on the road and suffering, it was a good stage, I did a good effort and I’m happy to be in yellow,” Tadej Pogačar said in his press conference after the stage, having been caught by Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-Quick Step) and Richard Carapaz (EF Education-EasyPost) over the other side of the Côte de San Luca, and the Slovenian’s fourth place on stage one giving him the race lead by count back on placings.

“It was not a surprise to see him come back, he’s a top rider,” was Pogačar’s reaction to Evenepoel closing him and Vingegaard, the pair having worked together to try and make this once again a two-horse race.

The press room was told we’d have four questions with the new yellow jersey, the first two dispatched with the efficiency of a man who hopes to be doing this a lot over the next three weeks. But on the third question, we finally get his replay of his day. Maybe it took him a minute, sitting there in yellow, to realise he was back in the lead of the Tour for the first time since that day on the Col du Granon in 2022, that he can take this as a sign, regardless of the closeness of the results on paper, that things are going as planned so far.

“Yeah, today went quite normal, the breakaway went [away] really good, they took almost 10 minutes,” Pogačar said, relaying the day’s events as they played out.

“We knew we had a small chance to win the stage so we didn’t want to suffer on the front and kill the team for today, maybe a victory, but it was just good enough [a] final to test the legs of me and other contenders. I did a really good attack and I was happy that I exploded the contenders a little bit but Jonas was quite fast on my wheel and he was really strong. We went to the finish and then Evenepoel and Carapaz came with us in the last kilometres and it was a good stage too and tomorrow is a new day.”

Indeed, tomorrow is a new day, and if we want to do some amateur psychology for a second, looking forward to tomorrow tells us a lot about where Pogačar’s head is at. This Pogačar is far from the nervous two-time champion we saw pre-race in Florence.

“It feels good to be in yellow again,” he concluded. “Last year it never came and I was so close and then I cracked and this year it feels good to be back in yellow even without any margin. It’s confirmation I’m also strong, so I’m in good shape.”

The short-but-steep (and narrow) San Luca climb was ideally suited to Pogačar’s strengths, but Visma and Vingegaard were alert on both passages of the ascent.

While it was confirmation for Pogačar that he is strong, it was also confirmation for Vingegaard that he can handle these sorts of accelerations despite the past three injury-blighted months. The long climbs, beginning with the Galibier on Tuesday’s stage 4, are a different beast, but for now he can be happy with where he’s at.

“I think I can be very happy with how everything went today,” VIngegaard said post-stage. “Yesterday, of course, but especially today. That I was able to follow Tadej on the second climb of San Luca because yeah, I think this is probably one of the stages we feared the most or actually expected we could lose time. Because of my preparation, yeah, that’s honestly speaking that I didn’t have a good preparation for this race. We only had one and a half months and I think I can be super happy.”

Amongst the Plugge-infused pre-Tour mind games, an admission of doubt, a modicum of vulnerability, a glimpse of pure humanity.

“Yeah, waiting but also fearing sometimes,” the Dane said of the build-up to today’s stage since the route was announced. “I knew already before my crash that it was maybe a stage that suited him better than me and especially after the crash, yeah, maybe I was even more behind but at least I can say now that I am super, super close.”

The big difference comparing 2023’s stage 1 to today’s stage 2 was that, when Pogačar flicked his elbow after the pair had pulled away, Vingegaard accepted, working with his closest rival to turn the screw on the others vying to test their duopoly.

“He wanted me to pull on the kicker but I waited until the top,” Vingegaard explained. “From that moment I started working with him and try to gain some time on other competitors.

“I think this went way better than I ever expected so I’m really satisfied,” Vingegaard finished. “Two hard days to be honest.”

And many more to come. Be thankful that once again we have them both at this bike race.

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