Jonas Vingegaard turned the Tour de France upside down on Wednesday with a strong attack on the brutal final climb that won him the 11th stage of the race and snatched the leader’s yellow jersey from Tadej Pogacar.
On the previous day’s climbs of the Col du Télégraphe and the Col du Galibier, Pogacar and Vingegaard traded attacks, neither escaping for long. And at the bottom of the final climb of the Col du Granon, almost all the key riders were gathered. In a cautious race, some might have hoped that there would be no major change in the general classification at the end of the day.
But that theory failed to take into account the difficulty of the Granon, a grueling ascent to nearly 8,000 feet above sea level that had been raced on the Tour only once before, in 1986. Simply put, Vingegaard prospered while Pogacar did not.
With about three miles to go, Vingegaard made a fierce attack. And Pogacar, who had controlled the race since it began on July 1, surprisingly didn’t respond, or couldn’t. Vingegaard caught some riders who were in the way, raced up the Granon alone and finished alone at the top of the mountain in impressive style.
An even more unlikely sight unfolded behind him on the mountain: Pogacar was clearly in pain. He seemed to break down in the final miles, dropping back to finish seventh for the day, 2 minutes, 51 seconds behind the winner. That gave Vingegaard the overall lead by 2:16 over France’s Romain Bardet, who had a good day. Pogacar dropped to third, now 2:22 behind.
Vingegaard, 25, from Denmark, burst onto the scene at last year’s Tour, when he finished second at the finish of the event in Paris, five minutes behind favorite Pogacar. However, in the run-up to this year’s race, he was overlooked as a potential champion behind Slovenians Pogacar and Primoz Roglic. But as Roglic faded over the first 10 days, strong efforts from Vingegaard made him the clear challenger to Pogacar.
Pogacar, the two-time defending Tour de France champion, still has time to claim a treble. Thursday’s alpine stage ends with the characteristic curves of Alpe d’Huez on Bastille Day. And next week there will be tough stages in the Pyrenees, as well as a time trial on July 23, the day before the end of the race in Paris. But Vingegaard has surely seized the advantage, along with the yellow jersey.
“It’s really amazing,” Vingegaard said after the stage. “It is difficult for me to put words. This is what I’ve dreamed of.”
Of his many attacks, he said: “We wanted it to be a super tough race. We thought it was in my favor.”
On Pogacar, he added: “On the Galibier at the top, it was really strong and knocked everyone else down, and I was a little unsure if it was full or not. And then on the last climb, he was thinking, ‘If I don’t try, I’m not going to win.’”
Pogacar, who rides for UAE Team Emirates, shook hands with Vingegaard after the race with a smile. But he had to be humbled by his own performance and wonder how he could catch Vingegaard in the days to come. In addition, he has lost two of his seven teammates after they tested positive for Covid during the race, leaving him helpless in the high mountains.
“Tactically, they did a very good job,” Pogacar said of Vingegaard’s Jumbo-Visma team. “On the last climb, it was difficult. But we’ll see tomorrow. I want revenge. The Tour is not over.”