Col du Grand Colombier, France: Defending champion Jonas Vingegaard hailed his rivalry with Tadej Pogacar after surviving his latest attack where he clung on to the overall lead of the Tour de France on the Grand Colombier mountain on Friday.
Vingegaard finished just four seconds behind Pogacar after a sudden late attack as the Slovenian also picked up a four-second time bonus.
Vingegaard in all smiles
That left the Dane Vingegaard with a wafer thin 9sec overall advantage, after a stage won by Pole Ineos Grenadiers rider Michal Kwiatkowski on a breakaway.
At the end of the stage Vingegaard was all smiles, while his Slovenian rival was po-faced despite his latest gain.
The defending champion explained his mood by referring to the record books.
“In a final like this you can only be happy with how it worked out,” said Vingegaard.
“History has shown that the Tour rarely gets won by a few seconds,” he said. “Maybe once or twice, maybe here too, who knows, but I don’t think so.”
For once Vingegaard also opened up about Pogacar after previously insisting he never thinks about him.
“It’s a nice rivalry we have. He’s one of the best, if not the best rider in the world and it’s a nice fight we have going on,” he said.
Pogacar and UAE set a blistering tempo from about halfway up the Colombier.
“We knew Team UAE would do this so we told some of the guys to forget about it and not get involved and this is what happened, so I think our tactics worked well,” said Vingegaard.
“It might have looked like I was alone but I never felt like that, I felt my tactics worked.
“This is how I planned to do it, just held on, that’s our tactics and it suits me fine.”
Pogacar looked wiped out for once, but was talking a good fight.
“It’s a start, it was a good day, a small victory but it was worth it,” said Pogacar, who unleashed his attack on the upper reaches of the 17km climb in the Jura mountains.
On the July 14 French national holiday, the fireworks started when Kwiatkowski broke away on the only mountain on the short stage for his second ever Tour win.
Start to finish
“That was like full gas racing from the start to the finish,” said the 33-year-old Kwiatkowski.
Behind him, Pogacar tore away after a move from his UAE teammate Adam Yates acted as a foil, breaking first in an attempt to fluster the Jumbo man.
At first it seemed that Vingegaard had been distanced, but he dug deep in the searing heat to limit his losses at the line.
Relentless struggle between the two
In the relentless tit-for-tat struggle between the two, Vingegaard struck first taking over a minute off his main rival on stage five to move 53sec ahead.
But Pogacar, the winner in 2020 and 2021, has clawed nearly all of that back with three of his trademark late attacks.
Saturday’s route features around 45km of climbing and around the same in downhill riding. The stage finishes with a downhill dash, a scenario that usually would suit Vingegaard.