In 1989, Greg LeMond won the Tour de France by a mere eight seconds over Laurent Fignon in a nail-biting finale but this year’s edition might well provide an even closer ending as Tadej Pogacar and Jonas Vingegaard are locked in a classic battle.
Defending champion Vingegaard opened up a 53-second gap in the first mountain stage in the Pyrenees only for Pogacar, the 2020 and 2021 winner, to claw back time in the next three uphill finishes to cut the deficit to nine seconds.
That increased to 10 on Saturday as Vingegaard, by virtue of the bonus-second rules, gained one second on his rival despite finishing just behind him in the 14th stage won by Spain’s Carlos Rodriguez.
Pogacar was the first to attack, 3.7km from the top of the lung-busting Col de Joux Plane (11.6km at 8.5%), and he dropped the lanky Vingegaard but the Slovenian could not extend his lead beyond five seconds.
Two kilometres further up, Vingegaard was back and when Pogacar tried to launch a fierce sprint for bonus seconds at the summit, he was unable to get past a photographer’s motorcycle riding alongside the television motorcycle.
“I lost a bullet but it is what it is,” said Pogacar. “I was blocked by a motorbike, which was also blocked.”
The motorcycle was itself hemmed in by the crowd closing in on the road.
“I told my driver to accelerate when Pogacar attacked but he could not as there were fans in front,” the photographer told Reuters. “We should have gone away before and forgotten about the picture.”
Officials excluded both motorbikes from Sunday’s 15th stage.
“Those motorbikes should not be there but I appreciate that everyone is trying to do their job here,” Pogacar’s UAE Emirates team manager Mauro Gianetti told reporters, while the team’s sports director Matxin Fernandez called the incident ‘unacceptable’.
At the end of the day, Pogacar is still breathing down Vingegaard’s neck and he is convinced the Tour will be decided by a small margin.
“It will be a matter of seconds in the coming days. We’ll fight until the end,” the 24-year-old said.
Dane Vingegaard believes otherwise.
“I still don’t think it will be decided by seconds. At one point someone will take a fair bit of time on the other,” he said.