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Jonas Vingegaard pips Tadej Pogacar on stage 11 to ignite Tour de France GC race
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Jonas Vingegaard pips Tadej Pogacar on stage 11 to ignite Tour de France GC race

Jonas Vingegaard, the defending Tour de France champion, came back from what he described as life-threatening injuries to beat race leader and long-standing rival, Tadej Pogacar, in the toughest stage of the 2024 Tour de France to date.

“Three months ago, I really believed I was going to die,” the Danish rider said of his spell in intensive care after a terrifying downhill crash in April. “Now, sitting here with a stage win in the biggest race in the world, it’s incredible. “

After out-sprinting UAE Team Emirates leader Pogacar, an emotional Vingegaard, Tour winner in 2022 and 2023, paid tribute to his wife Trine and his Visma Lease-a-Bike team, for supporting his recovery from his high-speed crash in April’s Tour of the Basque Country. “I spoke with Trine straight away, and both of us had tears in our eyes,” the Dane said. “The support she and the team gave me means so much, with how much bad luck we have had.”

But Vingegaard has also been accused of playing the victim card by some within Pogacar’s UAE Emirates team. “I don’t care” he said. “I’m playing the victim card, because I am a victim. Seeing where I have come from, I don’t think a lot of guys would have made the Tour”

In a pulsating finale at Le Lioran to the Tour’s most testing stage so far, the big four of Pogacar, Vingegaard, Primoz Roglic and Remco Evenepoel traded blows on some of the steepest, roughest roads in the Massif Central.

The quartet of Grand Tour winners lived up to the pre-race hype in a stage that saw Pogacar instigate a long-range solo attack, Vingegaard call his bluff, Roglic, of Red Bull Bora Hansgrohe, crash on a damp hairpin bend and Soudal Quick-Step leader, Evenepoel, seek to limit his losses.

Pogacar had rolled the dice, gambling on an attack, 31.6km from the finish, and 600m from the top of the Puy Mary. Once again however, as in the finish to stage two in Bologna, on the giant climb of the Galibier and on Sunday’s gravel stage around Troyes, he failed to land a killer blow.

Asked if Vingegaard’s stage win gave the Dane the upper hand, Pogacar said: “I don’t see it as advantage to Jonas. I think today we were pretty equal, just at different times of the stage. We will see in the big mountains. But we are, more or less, at a similar level.”

Jonas Vingegaard is overcome by emotion after completing the stage.View image in fullscreen

Yet Vingegaard had never before beaten Pogacar in a head-to-head sprint and his stage win was as much a psychological blow as a sporting success. “It’s a sprint after a tough, tough day,” Pogacar said, “and Jonas was faster than me. Now everyone can see he’s in good shape, the best shape of his career if you ask me. I was a little bit disappointed I didn’t win, but I was satisfied with the day.”

If Vingegaard’s form is not a surprise, his resilience, following the crash that hospitalised him for 12 days, is. Pogacar meanwhile brushed away suggestions he had sought to exploit any vulnerability on the technical descents of the roads leading to the finish in Le Lioran. “I just wanted to make a gap on Puy Mary,” he said of his solo attack. “I don’t see any weakness of Jonas going downhill. He’s really focused. After his crash, for sure, he was scared, but now in the Tour, he’s really confident.”

After months of bad luck, crashes and illness, all of which ensured that several of his key mates were unable to ride the Tour, Vingegaard could only see the positives. “I’ve only had one and half months of training before this race,” he said. “I’m here now and it’s more than I would ever have expected. We’ve had so much bad luck in the team. Hopefully it’s the turning point.”

He may well be right. The Slovenian’s repeated failure to distance the Dane will feed into the speculation that while Pogacar remains strong, Vingegaard, unable to even compete until the start of the Tour in Florence, may be getting stronger as the race heads south towards the Pyrenees.

Source: theguardian.com