Tadej Pogacar smiled impishly on the grand podium after putting the pressure on his great rival and defending champion Jonas Vingegaard in the seconds gamble of the 110th Tour de France. “That was a beautiful day. In the end, a few seconds may not be decisive, but it could also be very close,” said the two-time Tour champion, who had already hoarded eleven seconds against Vingegaard on the opening weekend in the Basque Country.
Two third places in Bilbao and San Sebastian, plus the successful hill sprint on the Jaizkibel – everything is going according to plan for Pogacar. In the overall standings, he is already in second place behind his team-mate and winner of the season opener, Adam Yates, who successfully defended the yellow jersey on Sunday when Frenchman Victor Lafay surprisingly won the day.
Simon Geschke’s team-mate surprisingly won the second stage over 208.9 kilometers from Vitoria-Gasteiz to San Sebastian, ahead of stars Wout van Aert and two-time Tour champion Tadej Pogacar. Exactly one kilometer from the finish, Lafay put his heart into his hands and launched a spirited attack from the rear of the leading group, which was made up of almost all the stars.
The outsider quickly put a gap of more than 50 meters between himself and his rivals, who closed the gap again but were unable to catch him completely.
But the man of the first weekend was Pogacar. If there were ever any doubts about his form after the compulsory two-month break, he was able to sweep them aside impressively.
“The hand felt good. My engine starts slowly. I’m very happy with my shape,” said the 24-year-old professional cyclist, who had fixed his wrist with the not yet healed scaphoid fracture with black tape. The injury he sustained at the end of April in the spring classic Liège-Bastogne-Liège did not hinder him, but obviously not. Pogacar went straight to the attack department on the roller coaster ride through the Basque mountains, although Vingegaard showed no weakness even on the steepest ramps and always stayed on the rear wheel.
Vingegaard, who is at a disadvantage in a direct duel with Pogacar due to his lack of explosiveness, reacted accordingly calmly. “The Tour will probably not be decided by seconds. We are on course. You can’t always win,” emphasized the 26-year-old at the start. He sees his chance on the long climbs in the high mountains.
Until then, Pogacar takes every chance to get some time out. On Sunday he secured four seconds on the second stage over 208.9 kilometers from Vitoria-Gasteiz to San Sebastian by finishing third behind Lafay and Belgian Wout van Aert, and he also won the hill sprint on the Jaizkibel before Vingegaard, which gave him more three seconds against the Dane. Pogacar had already finished third in Bilbao on Saturday.
The German professional cyclists only played a supporting role at the cycling party in the Basque country. Georg Zimmermann just missed the mountain jersey at the start and refrained from further attacks on Sunday. Zimmermann complained that he hadn’t done his homework, who had started the sprint for the mountain points too late on the decisive climb. The best German in the overall standings is the former Tour fourth Emanuel Buchmann, who finished 15th with the group of favorites on Sunday.
For a short time, the German champions even attacked. “I wanted to see if anyone was going with me. The stage confirmed that the legs are quite good,” said Buchmann, who currently has to be content with the role of helper for the Australian captain Jai Hindley in the Bora-hansgrohe team.
The 2022 Giro winner is aiming for the podium in Paris, then under normal circumstances third place is at stake. Two rivals in this endeavor had to say goodbye after the opening weekend. Olympic champion Richard Carapaz (Ecuador) suffered a kneecap fracture in a fall, while Enric Mas (Spain), who finished second in the Vuelta, broke his shoulder blade.
The feared mass falls did not materialize. After the death of Swiss Gino Mäder, who fell into a ravine at the Tour de Suisse in mid-June and died a day later, security debates accompanied the start of the Tour.
The tour was also accompanied by hundreds of thousands of cycling fans during its guest performance from Spain, who created a mood on the climbs like in Alpe d’Huez or on the Tourmalet. “I drove up with a big grin and goosebumps,” said veteran John Degenkolb.
On Monday, the tour then sets course for France on the third stage over 193.5 kilometers from Amorebieta-Etxano to Bayonne. This also increases the safety concerns of the tour organizers. The unrest in France could also affect the most important sporting event in the Grande Nation by the seventh stage, which ends in Bordeaux on Friday. “We are following developments closely and are in constant contact with the Ministry of the Interior,” said tour director Christian Prudhomme. The safety precautions should then be increased during the stages.