Jonas Vingegaard continued to show his impressive form on the final mountain day of an enthralling edition of the Tour de France. Stage 18 finished with the legendary Hautacam climb where Jonas Vingegaard took a big leap towards the overall victory by putting more than a minute into Tadej Pogačar. The Dane did not break his compatriot Bjarne Riis’ record time (34:41) but still did the fastest climbing time since Lance Armstrong in 2000.
This was the last mountain stage in the Tour and the last chance for Pogačar to drastically change his GC situation because in the flat 40km ITT it would be practically impossible to take back 2:18 minutes from Vingegaard. The stage was ridden extremely hard from the gun as riders tried to get in the breakaway in the flat run-in to Aubisque. Simon Geschke, who was fighting to remain the leader of King of the Mountains competition, could not easily get in the early breakaway, which made life harder for everyone because Cofidis continued to chase every move. Mikkel Bjerg, after a strong performance on stage 17, where he thinned down the GC group to around 20 riders, was dropped early and at risk of finishing outside of the time limit. Fortunately for him, once the big breakaway was established on Col d’Aubisque (16.4 km, 7.0%) the GC group slowed down under the pace of Nathan van Hooydonck.
Jumbo-Visma sent Wout van Aert and Tiesj Benoot in the breakaway as possible satellite riders, in a similar strategy to Stage 16. UAE Team Emirates tried to test Vingegaard’s legs again today, with Brandon McNulty setting up Pogačar on Col de Spandelles (10.2 km, 8.3%). McNulty was not as strong as on the previous stage but still did a good job reducing the GC group to only 5-6 riders, before Pogačar started attacking with 6 km to go to the top of Spandelles. Vingegaard could respond to every Pogačar attack, with the Slovenian accelerating at least six times to no avail.
The tempo on Spandelles was really high, Pogačar averaging 6.25 w/kg for almost 30 minutes. The climb was not steadily paced as Pogačar attacked hard multiple times, which would suggest his normalised power would be much higher than his average power.
The Spandelles descent was treacherous and Pogačar went full-gas, taking all the risks to dislodge Vingegaard. He nearly succeeded when the Dane, in one corner, almost slid out after starting pedalling too fast. Pogačar accelerated on the descent, but Vingegaard was able to recover to his wheel quickly. Pogačar continued to push hard and in one of the corners crashed. This was a moment for Vingegaard to take more time on Pogačar, considering Van Aert was in front of him. The Belgian had paced the climbs in the breakaway to ensure he was ahead of Vingegaard on the Spandelles descent if something bad would happen. However the Dane showed a class of sportsmanship and waited for Pogačar, who was bruised after the crash and seemingly in agitated discussions with his team car.
Before the Hautacam started, Benoot and Kuss, along with Geraint Thomas and Meintjies, caught both GC leaders. Jumbo-Visma paced the climb hard, knowing that Vingegaard will likely drop Pogačar as the longer climbs have suited Vingegaard more in this Tour de France.
With Vingegaard and Pogačar still on his wheel with 5 km to go, Sepp Kuss caught the last survivor of the breakaway, Wout van Aert with the Belgian doing a magnificent pull, dropping Pogačar from the wheel of Vingegaard. Van Aert continued to pace until 3.7 km to go, when the yellow jersey went solo towards the stage victory and ending the fight in GC. It was a Jumbo-Visma masterclass.
Vingegaard put 1 minute and 4 seconds into Pogačar. Riis’ Hautacam record was unbreakable on a stage this hard even with modern equipment. Riis in the 1996 Tour did an estimated 6.88 w/kg for 34:41min up Hautacam on a unipuerto stage. Vingegaard still performed exceptionally well on the climb, doing an estimated 6.32 w/kg for 36:37min.
It is his best climbing performance on a long climb by pure w/kg standards, not even considering how hard Spandelles was before Hautacam, how hot the stage was (Pogačar’s strava data shows that the average temperature was 33 centigrade) or that this was a third consecutive mountain or a third week in a Grand Tour. However Col du Granon was also an incredibly hard stage featuring high altitude, so it is difficult to conclude that Vingegaard’s Hautacam performance was better than on Granon.
Vingegaard was almost two minutes slower than Riis. This was the fastest Hautacam since 2000, when Lance Armstrong destroyed everyone on a wet day. Vingegaard was 17 seconds slower than the American. Vingegaard was much faster than Vincenzo Nibali in 2014 (37:23min, 6.13 w/kg) and Leonardo Piepoli and Juan Jose Cobo in 2008 (37:30 min, 6.10 w/kg).
Pogačar, despite losing to Vingegaard by more than a minute, did one of his best 30+minute performances on Hautacam, especially considering his fierce attacks on Spandelles. We did not see the complete cracking of Pogacar like we did on Granon, Vingegaard was just stronger.
The gaps in the GC after today are huge. David Gaudu moved up to fourth place and is losing 11:05min to Vingegaard, while Aleksandr Vlasov jumped to 7th place and should surpass Nairo Quintana (35 seconds ahead of Vlasov) and Louis Meintjes (27 sec) after the 40.7 kilometre time-trial, considering Vlasov’s time-trial abilities. There are only left two flat stages and a time-trial in the Tour, with only a huge disaster able to change the order in the top three.
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