Tour de France 2023
Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) remains firmly in the hunt to win the Tour de France after he dropped Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) to win a dramatic stage 6 to Cauterets.
Vingegaard did enough to divest Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) of the yellow jersey after springing onto the attack on the penultimate climb of the Col du Tourmalet, but it was hard to couch the first summit finish of the race as anything other than a bracing defeat for the Dane.
After beating Pogačar convincingly in the first round of their contest in the Pyrenees on Wednesday, Vingegaard seemed to be eyeing an early knock-out blow throughout stage 6, which brought the race over the Aspin and Tourmalet ahead of the finishing climb.
For most of the day, the terms of engagement were duly dictated by the Jumbo-Visma squad, who dispatched Wout van Aert in the early break and then split the race asunder on the Tourmalet with 50km remaining, distancing Hindley and the rest of the podium contenders with a disquieting facility to tee up a Vingegaard attack that only Pogačar could follow.
Van Aert waited for Vingegaard and Pogačar on the descent of the Tourmalet before leading them back up to the break, and on the final climb to Cauterets, the Belgian proceeded to lay down a brisk tempo on behalf of his teammate.
The inevitable Vingegaard acceleration arrived with 4.6km to go, but Pogačar managed to resist the Dane’s onslaught, even if, at first, he gave the impression of a man clinging on to his Tour challenge.
Instead, Pogačar was simply in the process of conjuring up a rope-a-dope strategy worthy of Muhammad Ali. 2.8km from the summit, Pogačar rose from his saddle and accelerated sharply out of Vingegaard’s rear wheel, immediately opening a sizeable gap on the Dane.
Vingegaard scrambled to keep the deficit at around 50 metres for a time before gradually ceding ground to Pogačar all the way to the summit, crossing the line 24 seconds behind the two-time Tour winner.
“I would not say revenge but it’s good to win today and take back some time. I feel a little bit of relief and feel much better now,” Pogačar said.
“The display Jonas showed yesterday was incredible and I was thinking when they started pulling on the Tourmalet: ‘Shit, if it’s going to happen like yesterday, we can pack our bags and go home.’ Luckily, I had good legs today and I could follow on the Tourmalet quite comfortably. Then, when I felt it was the right moment in the end I attacked. It was a big relief.”
The overnight leader Hindley was the best of the other GC contenders, but he was already two minutes down on Pogačar and Vingegaard atop the Tourmalet, and he came home 2:39 down in the company of Carlos Rodriguez (Ineos) and Simon Yates (Jayco-Alula).
Although Vingegaard had the consolation of claiming the yellow jersey, he lies just 25 seconds ahead of Pogačar. Hindley is now third at 1:34 and the Tour, as if we didn’t know it already, is a straight duel between Pogačar and Vingegaard.
“I would say it’s almost perfect the gap,” Pogačar said. “It’s going to be a big, big battle until the last stage, I think.”
Vingegaard, meanwhile, had the look of a man who knows he is in a real contest. “We wanted to try to test him again today and see how he felt,” he said. “I suppose he felt better than yesterday. It’s going to be one hell of a battle all the way to Paris.”
Vingegaard’s show of force on the opening day in the Pyrenees had suggested that he was a rung ahead of even Pogačar, and for most of stage 6, Jumbo-Visma raced as though they were certain of it. Although Hindley’s Bora-Hansgrohe squad exercised a little more control on the opening kilometres than UAE Team Emirates had done the previous day, it was still a brisk start to proceedings and the seemingly indefatigable Van Aert was again the main driver of the early break, attacking from the start in the company of Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal-QuickStep).
Van Aert and Alaphilippe would eventually be joined by a group of 20 riders that included Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates), Michał Kwiatkowski (Ineos Grenadiers), Neilson Powless, James Shaw (EF Education-EasyPost), Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Ruben Guerreiro (Movistar) and Jonas Gregaard (Uno-X), and they amassed a lead of 3:20 ahead of the Col d’Aspin.
Powless led over the Aspin, and the front group was whittled down still further on the mighty Tourmalet, where Alaphilippe set off on the attack with Shaw. Van Aert, however, soon took command of affairs, bringing back Alaphilippe and then setting a tempo that only Kwiatkowski, Guerreiro, Powless, Shaw and Tobias Halland Johannessen (Uno-X) could follow.
At the same moment, Jumbo-Visma had massed at the head of the yellow jersey group, gradually dialling up the intensity as the Tourmalet wore on. Their grand offensive began in earnest 4km from the summit when Wilco Kelderman set a pace that only Sepp Kuss, Pogačar, Vingegaard and Hindley could follow, while the rest of the podium contenders were scattered down the mountainside.
Hindley was burnt off once Kuss came to the front before Vingegaard climbed from the saddle and launched a searing acceleration with 2.5km of the climb remaining. Remarkably, Vingegaard’s effort meant that he and Pogačar gained two minutes on all of their rivals on the upper reaches of the Tourmalet, and it later emerged that the Dane had bettered the previous record time for the ascent by a similar margin.
Vingegaard and Pogačar, in other words, were operating on a different plane to anybody else in the race, at a level rarely, if ever, seen in the history of the Tour. Over the top of the Tourmalet and down the other side, men like Hindley, the Yates brothers and Romain Bardet (DSM) tried to find common cause to limit the damage, but the gaps are already eye-watering with over two weeks of the Tour still to come.
After Pogačar, Hindley is now the only rider within three minutes of Vingegaard’s lead, while the Yates brothers and Rodriguez are the only men within four minutes of the maillot jaune.
“What can I say, it was just an epic day riding around in the yellow jersey doing some mythical climbs and to be honest I got my arse handed to me,” Hindley said. “But I really enjoyed it.”
Tomorrow’s stage seven sees Le Tour return to Bordeaux for the first time since 2010. A sprint finish is the most likely outcome in the city on the estuary of the Gironde River. The riders clip into their pedals in Mont-De-Marsan for a spin that adds up to 169.9 kilometers.
It’s the 57th time since 1947 that the biggest cycling contest in the world finishes in Bordeaux. But, remarkably, the last finish dates back to 2010. So that’s 13 editions without a Bordeaux finish on Le Tour. The stage winner succeeds Mark Cavendish, who outgunned Jean Dean and Alessandro Petacchi in 2010.
Eddy Merckx is the rider with the most Tour de France stage wins in Bordeaux, namely four in the years 1970-1974. Cavendish will no doubt look to surpass Merckx as the rider with most stage victories by claiming another victory in the Belgian’s favourite hunting ground.
The route of the 7th stage is a sprinter’s dream. The only hurdle is the Côte de Béguey – 1.2 kilometers at 4.4% – with its summit almost 50 kilometres before the finish.
Stage 6 result:
- Tadej Pogacar (SLO, UAE Team Emirates) 3hr 54’27”
- Jonas Vingegaard (DEN, Jumbo-Visma) +24″
- Tobias Halland Johannessen (NOR, Uno-X Pro Cycling Team) +1:22″
- Ruben Guerreiro (POR, Movistar Team) +2:06″
- James Shaw (GBR, EF Education-EasyPost) +2:15″
- Jai Hindley (AUS, Bora-Hansgrohe) +2:39″
- Carlos Rodríguez (SPA, INEOS Grenadiers) +2:39″
- Simon Yates (GBR, Team Jayco AlUla) +2:39″
- Adam Yates (GBR, UAE Team Emirates) +3:11″
- Romain Bardet (FRA, Team dsm – firmenich) +3:12″
- Jonas Vingegaard (DEN, Jumbo-Visma)
- Tadej Pogacar (SLO, UAE Team Emirates) +25″
- Jai Hindley (AUS, Bora-Hansgrohe) +1:34″
- Simon Yates (GBR, Team Jayco AlUla) +3:14″
- Carlos Rodriguez Cano (ESP, Ineos Grenadiers) +3:30″
- Adam Yates (GBR, UAE Team Emirates) +3:40″
- David Gaudu (FRA, Groupama – FDJ) +4:03″
- Romain Bardet (FRA, Team dsm – firmenich) +4:43″
- Thomas Pidcock (GBR, INEOS Grenadiers) +4:43″
- Sepp Kuss (USA, Jumbo-Visma) +5:28″