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Primož Roglič leads Remco Evenepoel and a select group of chasers on the Côte di San Luca climb on stage 2 of the 2024 Tour de France. They're racing past a long, two-story building of red sandstone with many arches, the road lined with fans, and other riders including Egan Bernal and Carlos Rodriguez behind.

Will anyone challenge the duopoly?

Stage 2 of the Tour de France was the Pog and Vinny show, as other contenders are found wanting.

Joe Lindsey
by Joe Lindsey 30.06.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos
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Everyone knew the attack was coming; the only question was when.

“We expected [Tadej] Pogačar to attack maybe on the first climb [of the Côte de San Luca],” said Frans Maassen, director of two-time Tour de France champion Jonas Vingegaard’s Visma-Lease a Bike team after stage 2 of the 2024 edition. When he didn’t, they knew it would follow on the race’s second passage.

Sure enough, the UAE Team Emirates leader did finally launch with about 500 meters to the summit: a vicious, perfectly timed acceleration into a narrow chicane that meant riders could only follow in a line. Just one did. By the top of the climb, the duo that has fought to 1-2 finishes the past three Tours had more than 30 seconds on everyone else in the race. That Soudal-Quick Step’s Remco Evenepoel mounted a furious, successful chase to regain contact just before the line was a victory on paper, but everyone knows what’s coming next.

Vingegaard clearly passed an important early test on what he said was “probably one of the stages we feared the most” even before his horrific crash in April drastically altered and shortened his preparation for the Tour. But what of everyone else? Evenepoel and Red Bull-Bora-Hansgrohe’s Primož Roglič, as wily a racer as they come, also knew the attack was coming, and yet were found wanting. Despite their own furious chase, every other contender bar Evenepoel lost 21 seconds on the day.

Positioning may have played a role. “It would have been better to follow the attack,” Evenepoel noted in post-race comments. “But there was a small gap when we went under the bridge with 1 km to the top of the climb so I had to jump to the front of the other group and I think my efforts I did there was a bit too much to follow the attack straightaway, and the attack followed 20 or 30 seconds later, so I lost some power there and some freshness. It was a small mistake to be a little bit too far back but in the end everything turned out well on the finish.”

Roglič – who Evenepoel said “looked a bit shaky” – faced a slightly different situation. “We predicted that Tadej would test Jonas at the beginning to see how good he is,” said Roglič’s director, Rolf Aldag, at the finish. But he had no immediate answers for why his team’s leader wasn’t there, saying he hadn’t seen images yet of the attack. “We just heard that [Pogačar’s teammate] Adam Yates takes it on, and we’re speeding it up but we were not really aware of where Primož was at that moment, if he was positioned [properly]. The last thing you can expect from him is closing a gap of some seconds. If Pogačar and Vingegaard go, you have to be on the wheel.”

When Aldag does get a moment to check the footage, he’ll see that an overhead shot of the favorites group just moments before the attack shows an emerging split, with an eight-rider group led by Yates and containing Pogačar, Vingegaard, and Evenepoel; Giulio Ciccone and Roglič’s teammate, Aleksandr Vlasov, a few meters behind; and Roglič desperately straining at the front of a disintegrating yellow-jersey group a few meters farther back from that. At the finish, Roglič spoke briefly in Slovenian to a TV crew but later admitted in a brief media session that he simply didn’t have the legs. “I was not on the wheel. It’s just a fact that I was way too much behind. And yeah, in the end I just couldn’t really do anything,” he said.

The GC group climb the steep gradients of the Côte to San Luca during stage 2 of the 2024 Tour de France, winding among thick crowds lining the road.
Every contender in the race knew positioning would be vital on the steep, narrow, and winding climb of the Côte de San Luca.

Still, there was no apparent concern in the Red Bull camp. “I think he was still quite good,” said teammate Jai Hindley of Roglič’s ride. “The conditions are obviously really, really challenging, also yesterday was super hot. I don’t think it was too bad to be honest.”

Hindley called the racing strange to this point, and Ineos Grenadiers’ Tom Pidcock concurred: “When you’ve got someone like Tadej and you’ve put on a display in the Giro like he did, no one in their right mind is going to ride just to bring him to the finish. So you just get a bit of a strange dynamic at the moment. Obviously [UAE] don’t want to fully commit yet, maybe because [Tadej] had COVID, he doesn’t want to put his cards on the table.” If what we saw today was half measures, I’m not sure any of us is ready to witness the firepower of this fully operational Pogačar-Vingegaard battle.

Pidcock said he personally didn’t feel great on the San Luca climb but did what he could on the descent and flat to limit the losses for team leaders Carlos Rodríguez and Egan Bernal. Aldag and Hindley felt much the same about Red Bull’s efforts, saying the team did good work on the chase.

Was it rationalization or reality when Hindley noted that “we’re only 48 hours into a three-week race, so it’s plenty of racing to come”? He’s right that shipping 21 seconds is not a disaster day. And this has been an unusually hard opening brace of stages for a Tour: after 3,600 meters of climbing to open stage 1, and a punchy stage 2 that seemed tailor-made for Pogačar’s capabilities, nearly two dozen riders sit within 21 seconds of his yellow. Evenepoel, now in the white jersey of best young rider, is even technically tied on overall time, and can take some comfort that his superlative time trial skills on display today may come in very handy on Friday’s stage 7.

And yet.

Only two riders (well, three, counting stage winner Kévin Vauquelin of Arkéa-B&B Hotels) truly had what could be considered a great day. There’s a certain plaintive quality to the “all is well” assertions from other camps. While stage 3 is a brief respite with an expected sprint finish, stage 4 is a stiff mountain stage that takes the race immediately to altitude with the 2,627-meter Col du Galibier, the second-highest point in the race (behind stage 19’s Cime de la Bonette at 2,798 metres).

There are few more tactically savvy racers than Primož Roglič, but due to fitness or position, he wasn’t able to go with Pogačar and Vingegaard.

Evenepoel predicts that he will feel stronger and more confident as the race unfolds. “I’m slowly proving to myself that the shape is there,” he said. “I feel that I still miss some acceleration, some pure power, but most of the time I need a few days to get into the rhythm to find the power.” The question is whether that will come early enough.

Aldag expects more fireworks from Pogačar, and soon. “I think he will do the same thing two days from now and see how Vingegaard is,” he said. “That defines for him the future strategy to say ‘Well, should I try to drop him in the climbs? Can I rely on time trialing?’ And we have to see where we are. Nobody is going to be 110% the whole Tour de France. If that was our 98% day, then I go with a big smile out of this day.”

Maybe Aldag is right. But recent history at the Grand Tours suggests that in fact there are two riders who consistently are close to 100% the entire three weeks. Since both emerged as Grand Tour contenders, Pogačar has had about three bad days (by his standards) in 103 days of Grand Tour racing, and Vingegaard pretty much zero across four Grand Tours. Evenepoel’s track record is more streaky, and even the usually reliable Roglič finished his recent Critérium du Dauphiné win on fumes.

Aldag’s generally sunny analysis may yet prove to be spot on. But there’s a question there that merits more scrutiny. Yes, if stage 2 was Roglić at 98% that’s a good sign. But what if it wasn’t?

Caley Fretz and Jonny Long contributed reporting from on the ground in Bologna, Italy.

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