Jonas Vingaard embarked on a thrilling ride in a hilly time trial in the Tour de France on Tuesday, winning the stage and dominating the race with less than a week until its finale in Paris. His time over the 14-mile distance was 1 minute 38 seconds better than that of his competitor, Tadezh Pogacar, and this extended his overall lead by 10 seconds to 1:48, a potential margin.
For two weeks, Pogacar, from Slovenia, has been teetering on the early lead over Vingegard, Dane, using his blistering acceleration in carefully timed bursts to blast away on the steepest mountains and steal seconds. The result was the greatest head-to-head tour fight in many years.
But sudden acceleration and tactical prowess were less important in the 16th stage on Tuesday. It was a time trial, with each rider traveling on their own a short but hilly course from Passy to Complex in the Alps.
Instead, it was about constant speed on the flat, downhill and most importantly downhill sections. Pogacar narrowly underperformed; He was comfortable in the second best time of the day. But Vingegaard did much better.
“I am first among humans today,” said Wout van Aert, who finished third. There was no Vingegaard or Pogacar catching on Tuesday.
This year’s event is a rare Tour de France because it only has a one-time time trial. The time trial is often called the “Truth Race”. There are no teammates to set the pace or shadow rivals, just a rider, his bike and the clock.
Pogacar started after that last one, with Vingegaard taking off two minutes later.
Checking for the first time, at four and a half miles, after an easier part of the course showed Vingegaard 16 seconds ahead. He extended that to 31 seconds at the second check. On the third check, the score is 1:05.
That was when Pogacar finally rolled the dice, opting to change his bike for the final climb. He hopped off his time trials bike, with an aerodynamically optimized disc rear wheel, and rode a standard road bike, with spokes on both wheels, more suited to climbing. The UAE Pogacar Team saw that the few seconds lost by changing the bike would be compensated for by the time gained on the climb.
But Vingegaard didn’t seem to back down by sticking to his test bike, and the gap only widened.
“I was feeling great today,” he said. “I think it’s the best time trial I’ve ever done.” When asked if he expected such a big victory, he replied: “Honestly, no. I think I even surprised myself today.”
Pogacar was philosophical yet brave. “It’s a huge gap now,” he said. “I wish I was in yellow today.”
“It’s definitely not over,” he added. “Especially if it is raining tomorrow, I can promise you it will be fun. There are two more stages coming up, I think the two hardest stages of this Tour.” Those mountain stages come on Wednesday and Saturday before the final ceremonial stage finish in Paris on Sunday.
During Tuesday’s stage, the odds for the overall win changed dramatically, with the riders’ odds quickly changing to favorite Vingegaard on Pogacar at 10 to 1.
“It’s not easy to get two minutes,” Pogacar admitted. “But we will try.”