Jonas Vingegaard Smoked Everyone Else In A Masterful Time Trial
5:09 PM EDT on July 18, 2023
Jonas Vingegaard's stoicism is usually so pronounced that what he said before Tuesday's critical time trial passed as bluster. The gawky Dane briefly spoke to the press during Monday's rest day, eschewing a press conference for a short video interview. In it, he addressed the lack of separation between himself and Tadej Pogacar.
"I don't believe it will be a matter of seconds. I could not imagine. But I guess we'll see in Paris," Vingegaard said, noting that the time trial would be the most decisive stage remaining. "I think it is a good route for me. I like a change of pace and there will be some of that tomorrow." Even he could not have predicted how correct he'd be.
Pogacar put forth another signature time trial performance on Tuesday, booting Wout van Aert from the leader's hot seat and smashing his time by 1:23. On any other day, this would be a Tour-winning performance, worthy of toasting alongside his 2020 stunner. But Pogacar's lead only stood for 22 seconds, because behind him, Vingegaard put the finishing touches on a masterpiece. Van Aert didn't even have time to leave the hot seat before tipping his cap to Vingegaard, his team leader, for a history-making performance. Vingegaard destroyed Pogacar's finish by 1:38, beat the field of normal people (van Aert's words, not mine) by nearly three minutes, and put one foot on the winner's podium.
To smoke the field by three minutes at any time trial is extraordinary, but this was not one of the long, flat 60-kilometer slogs from 20 years ago. Stage 16 was a spiky 22-kilometer ride with a categorized climb and lots of technical riding. Vingegaard was better in every phase, flying through the tricky course at 41.2 km/h, which was 3.3 km/h faster than van Aert, who has won two Tour de France time trials and has two silver medals at the World Championships.
What's hard to grasp is that Vingegaard built a huge gap in front of Pogacar despite Pogacar also rocketing through the course. This was not the 2020 time trial, when a visibly shaken Primoz Roglic listed through an awful day on the bike. Both men rode at their limit, but Vingegaard's limit was significantly higher. The sight of Pogacar catching the third-place Carlos Rodriguez, who started two minutes ahead of him, should have been a sign of a stellar performance. Instead, as Vingegaard caught sight of Pogacar and Rodriguez despite starting two and four minutes behind them, respectively, it was a sign of Pogacar's ceiling.
The time trial's parcours presented an interesting tactical choice: Should a rider swap out the heavier, more aerodynamic time-trial bike for a road bike before the climb? Jumbo-Visma riders, including Vingegaard, raced the whole thing on their TT bikes, while Pogacar and many others opted for a bike change. (Hilariously, Giulio Ciccone raced the whole TT on his road bike, straightforwardly chilling until the climb so he could maximize his chance to get King of the Mountain points.) Pogacar's bike change cost him 15 seconds for two fewer kilograms of weight going uphill, and still Vingegaard was 30 seconds faster.
Only two riders are within nine minutes of the two leaders, and only three more are within 17, which is fairly ridiculous for a modern Tour. Vingegaard now has a 1:48 advantage over Pogacar. His race will be tactically simple over the next five stages: Use your strong Jumbo-Visma teammates to keep Pogacar and his UAE team from setting up anything too ambitious. Pogacar only has two chances to earn back some time, and neither remaining mountain stage has a summit finish. Wednesday's queen stage looms: Very few of the 166 kilometers will be on flat roads. The race will vault up and then down three significant climbs before arriving at the foot of the Col de la Loze, with a total of 5,000 meters of climbing.
If Pogacar is going to find a springboard, the Col de la Loze will be it. He didn't even try to hide his intentions. "It’s definitely not over," he said after Stage 16. "Especially tomorrow if it’s raining. Then I can promise you it’s going to be interesting. Two more really hard stages to come, the hardest two of this Tour. Anything can happen, anyone can have a bad day." Vingegaard knows he'll have a fight on his hands, but so far he's shown that he's ready for it.