With a show of force on Mont Blanc, Jonas Vingegaard took a huge step towards successfully defending his title at the Tour de France. At the beginning of the crucial week, the Dane inflicted a heavy defeat on his great rival Tadej Pogacar in the individual time trial and impressively defended the yellow jersey. Fighting the clock on Tuesday’s stage 16 in Combloux, Vingegaard was an incredible 1m38s faster than Pogacar at just 22.4km, increasing the gap over the Slovenian from 10s to 1m48s. Vingegaard has been wearing the yellow jersey since stage six.

“I felt great. That was the best time trial I’ve ever ridden. I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved,” said Vingegaard. His team boss Richard Plugge didn’t want to talk about a preliminary decision: “The tour is only decided when the bus with Pogacar leaves for Slovenia.” Pogacar was disappointed: “Today I had nothing to oppose. It wasn’t my best day.” Nevertheless, he wants to attack again: “It’s not over yet.”

He also has to do that on the very difficult king’s stage on Wednesday, which leads to the 2304 meter high Col de la Loze and should already give a foretaste of the eventual overall winner.

In the only fight against the clock at this year’s Tour of France, Vingegaard rode at express speed on the route in the Alps, which climbed sharply at the end. Pogacar was not bad at all and had a big lead over third Wout van Aert (Belgium). “That was extremely impressive. The time trial was from another planet,” enthused sports director Rolf Aldag from the German Bora-hansgrohe team. The best German was Nikias Arndt, who finished 25th.

The 22.4 kilometer route between Passy and Combloux in the Alps was not laid out like a normal time trial anyway. The first few kilometers were still flat, but at the end there was a demanding 2.5 kilometers with an average incline of 9.4 percent.

“It was a tough time trial,” said Nils Politt in an interview with ARD. The man from Cologne presented himself in his black, red and gold jersey, which he received a few weeks ago as the German time trial champion. He wasn’t satisfied: “The legs didn’t feel good after the rest day,” added Politt.

Things didn’t go so smoothly for John Degenkolb either. He fell in the very first corner, but the 34-year-old kept going. “It was obviously a bit slippery. Except for a few abrasions, I haven’t done much,” he said.

The same applies to time trials: the current best comes last. So Pogacar started on his time trial machine at 4:58 p.m., Vingegaard started at 5:00 p.m. The Dane shot off the ramp like an arrow and drove at a tremendous pace. At the second timer, he was 31 seconds ahead of Pogacar. With 5.6 kilometers to go, the Slovenian switched from the time trial machine to the mountain bike, which cost him valuable time. So far, the two exceptional drivers have fought a great and above all balanced duel. The gap before the time trial was only ten seconds.

Before the tour, Pogacar had been struggling with the consequences of a scaphoid fracture. It’s still not completely over, but he’ll take care of that after the tour, he explained and confirmed: “The legs are good, that’s the most important thing.”

The Slovenian will need them on Wednesday. Then the king’s stage to the Col de la Loze is on the program for the favourites. The 17th stage, which has more than 5000 meters of altitude difference, could lead to a preliminary decision in the duel for overall victory between Vingegaard and Pogacar.

The section on the 166 kilometers between Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc and Courchevel is considered one of the most difficult in the Tour of France. The agonizing journey up the Alpine giants is 28 kilometers with an average incline of six percent. “Wednesday will be the toughest stage of the tour,” said Pogacar.