Copy of 2023-07-09T164822Z_1021759_UP1EJ791AOKN2_RTRMADP_3_CYCLING-FRANCE-1689007405579
UAE Team Emirates' Tadej Pogacar and Team Jumbo–Visma's Jonas Vingegaard in action during stage 9 Cycling - Tour de France - Stage 9. Image Credit: Reuters

Clermont Ferrand, France: Pressure seems to slide off Tadej Pogacar like water off a duck’s back as the two-time champion heads into the second block of racing in the Tour de France locked in a duel with title holder Jonas Vingegaard.

The Slovenian took fresh momentum into the second rest day after gaining another eight seconds on Sunday over Vingegaard, who was dropped twice in the final two mountain stages after being the first to draw blood in the Pyrenees.

Five more mountain stages are on the menu and Vingegaard hinted he would have an edge over his rival in the longer climbs of the Alps — a suggestion that Pogacar laughed off on Monday.

“We will see in the Alps who it suits better,” the 24-year-old said with a smile.

“I also like the Alps stages. I think every year I improve on the longer climbs and in the heat so we need to wait and see who will like it more.” Overall, Pogacar trails yellow jersey holder Vingegaard by 17 seconds and while the Danish rider remains confident that his advantage should see him win another title in Paris, the UAE Emirates rider believes the third week of the Tour could be his.

No extra pressure

“I’m not at all worried about the last week. I actually should be better than in the first week,” said Pogacar, whose preparations were hampered after he suffered a wrist fracture last April.

Asked if he was surprised that his form was so good despite his misfortune in the spring, Pogacar said: “What surprised me was when I lost time on Marie Blanque (in the first Pyrenean stage) but I knew that I was good coming into the Tour and I should not be surprised by my performances in the last days.”

Vingegaard’s Jumbo Visma team believe Sunday’s effort in the final part of the Puy de Dome climb (4km at 11.7 per cent) was Pogacar’s best performance ever in terms of data, but the Slovenian hinted he had already done better at training, saying he could also do better in the racing environment.

“They don’t know all my training or race data,” he said.

“They don’t know my weight and a lot (of other things) about me so they can only assume but I can tell you this one (on Sunday) was good but it could be better.” Pogacar will resume the race without extra pressure, and also a bit wiser than he has been in the past when he would launch long-range attacks and pay a heavy price for some early efforts.

“I have more pressure now that we’re deeper into the Tour but racing the Tour when you don’t have to defend the title makes a big difference,” he said.

Behind Pogacar and Vingegaard, the other big guns are already racing for the lowest step on the podium.

Third-placed Jai Hindley of Australia trails Vingegaard by two minutes and 40 seconds with Spain’s Carlos Rodriguez in fourth, 1:42 behind the 2022 Giro d’Italia winner.

Three Britons, Adam Yates and his brother Simon, and Tom Pidcock are fifth, sixth and seventh overall, respectively.

French hopes of a podium finish on the Champs Elysees took a major blow as David Gaudu was again unable to follow the big guns and dropped to eighth overall, 6:01 off the pace.