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A Thrilling Tour de France Belongs To Jonas Vingegaard

TOPSHOT - Jumbo-Visma team's Danish rider Jonas Vingegaard wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey celebrates as he cycles to the finish line to win the 18th stage of the 109th edition of the Tour de France cycling race, 143,2 km between Lourdes and Hautacam in the Pyrenees mountains in southwestern France, on July 21, 2022. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP) (Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images)
Marco Bertorello/Getty Images

Four times on the slopes of the Col de Spandelles, Tadej Pogacar flew past Jonas Vingegaard. The odds were always against Pogacar making up the 138-second gap on Vingegaard in the final mountain stage of the Tour de France, but he had to try, so he did. Left without teammates by the halfway point of the penultimate climb of the day, outmatched four-to-one, Pogacar was not going to win the Tour de France unless he broke Vingegaard. He threw everything he could at his rival, but it was not enough. Vingegaard marked every single move and eventually dropped Pogacar without ceremony on the final climb of the day, sewing up the first Tour de France win of his young career by winning his second stage of the race.

Standard disclaimers apply, of course. A fate as stupid as the one that befell poor Jack Bauer could leave Vingegaard with a broken clavicle, or Pogacar could go 2020 mode on the final time trial right as Vingegaard forgets how to ride a bike like Primoz Roglic did, or the Arc de Triomphe could fall on top of Vingegaard, but barring some catastrophe, Vingegaard has won the Tour on the road and will ride into Paris on Sunday as a conqueror. Not bad for a guy who has never won a stage race as a professional and worked in a fish-packing factory four years ago.

When Pogacar was still in the yellow jersey, he warned us, saying he thought Vingegaard was the best climber in the race. It was difficult to take him seriously then, since up to that point, all we'd seen Pogacar do was dominate two Tours in a row, capture this year's yellow jersey on the cobbles, and win two stages with ease. If could imagine Pogacar losing, it was a purely hypothetical exercise. But he was right. Vingegaard seized his moment on the Granon Serre Chevalier, and by the time Pogacar was ready to fight back, he found himself without enough teammates to do so. Meanwhile, Sepp Kuss and Wout Van Aert each put in massive turns for Vingegaard today, and the moment Pogacar let go of the rope and ceded the victory to Vingegaard on the Hautacam, Van Aert was driving the pace. Vingegaard squarely earned his victory by being a fearless speed demon going uphill, putting in a dominant climbing performance throughout the three weeks of racing, but Jumbo-Visma's stranglehold on this race from the opening stage in Copenhagen rivals the Death Star days of Team Sky. Brandon McNulty's historic day in the Pyrenees on Wednesday helped Pogacar capture his third stage, but it wasn't enough to break Vingegaard.

We should take a moment here to appreciate what a tremendous Tour this has been. I can't remember a post-Armstrong edition of the race that's been this exciting from tip to tail, and even the Armstrong vs. Ullrich battles of the early aughts didn't have this level of flair to them: After his upset Stage 1 victory earned him the yellow jersey, Yves Lampaert gave a stirring interview (he also said everyone's buttholes were full of water after the time trial); Fabio Jakobsen and Dylan Groenewegen, as if tied by cosmic fate to each other after Jakobsen nearly died when the two crashed in 2020, won stages within 24 hours of each other; every American in the peloton except Joe Dombrowski took turns lighting up the race; Tom Pidcock became the youngest rider ever to win atop Alp d'Huez; Hugo Houle won for his late brother; Wout Van Aert did everything all the time and won the points competition with four days of racing remaining; Jasper Philipsen, embarrassed after celebrating a stage win too early and losing, got his revenge on Van Aert; extra-cool Danish guys Mads Pedersen and Magnus Cort got wins; Chris Froome returned to form and raced hard in the mountain; and the fight for the final eight spots in the top 10 has been wild for two weeks. Sometimes a Tour de France is a brutal affair, where the attritional damage of crashing and racing hard and getting sick and wilting in the heat produces limp racing and sad outcomes for the coolest riders. This year, everything lined up as well as it ever has, and unless you are a French or Spanish fan, you were treated to a mega-compelling Tour de France. And there are still three stages left!

Most important of all, the throwdown for the yellow jersey was a thriller. Even though Vingegaard emerged from relative obscurity to finish second last year, few expected this level of cool dominance. He wasn't even his team's leader heading into the race. Up until the moment Pogacar cracked on the Granon Serre Chevalier, he was earning sober comparisons to Eddy Merckx. The discourse was focused on whether or not Pogacar was too dominant at too young an age; whether he would render the Tour a procedural affair without any panache or intrigue. Vingegaard kicked his ass. Pogacar, to his credit, fought like hell to get his yellow jersey back. The two riders spent every mountain stage fighting each other, gapping the rest of the contenders on what felt like every single climb of consequence. Pogacar is a true competitor and he was always the first rider to congratulate Vingegaard on his big rides. When Pogacar fell today, Vingegaard waited up for him and the two men shared a kind moment. The quick handshake, an acknowledgement of battles fought and battles yet to come, will go down as a defining image of a great race.

Vingegaard is 25. Pogacar is 23. They'll start next year's Tour de France with a combined three yellow jerseys between them. If this is to be the rivalry that defines the next half-decade of the Tour de France, I will happily take it. The two men are ideal foils for each other. Pogacar is a fiery madman, someone who will dance on the pedals and lay down stunning attacks without warning. Vingegaard is a steady climbing genius, a rider who can put down incredible power for hours on end. Both ride for theoretically loaded teams, though UAE Team Emirates were soundly outraced by Jumbo this time around. The peloton is in a great spot right now, and I hope Jonas Vingegaard enjoys his parade into Paris, because Pogacar will be gunning for him in 2023.

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