Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogacar have battled each other up the Alps and Pyrenean mountains, trading blows, attacking and defending, two evenly matched riders, head and shoulders above everyone else in the race.
Today, they fought each other down the last mountain. Still trailing Vingegaard by over two minutes and almost to the hors category Hautacam, the final climb of the Tour, Pogacar decided to risk everything in a gravity-defying descent off the Col de Spandelles.
Vinegaard is a confident descender but Pogacar has the edge in this particular skill. His only option to win was to create a gap before the Hautacam, then crack it open wider by the summit. A tall order if you weren’t Eddy Merckx or on a motorcycle.
The road was narrow, newly chipped and sealed but there was loose gravel in plenty of corners. It had never been used in the Tour and so it was unfamiliar. Not a road where you to want to gamble your Tour probabilities.
Switchback after switchback, sweeping, high speed rights and lefts. It wasn’t Tom Pidcock- level insanity on Alpe D’Huez but it was damn close. Pogacar running an extreme test of tire adhesion on heated up tar and scattered gravel.
The it happened so fast, so dramatic, a catastrophic rear wheel slide to the right. A flying Vingegaard unclips his left foot, throws his leg out for balance, somehow straightens a bike gone sideways and narrowly avoids going off road into the dirt.
For all of Vinegaard’s impressive climbing, mental strength and powers of recovery, you could say it was his bike handling skills that finally won his Tour. He solved a physics and velocity equation in a fraction of a second.
Then a few turns further down the mountain, it was Pogacar’s turn. He came in too hot on a left hander, too aggressive a line, and ended up off road, landing hard on his hip. A disaster that immediately put an end to his frisky, daring attacks.
After that, the truce. No more kamikaze moves, no more Pidcock imitations, Tour GC settled.
In a sign of true respect, Vinegaard looked back, soft pedaled and waited for Pogacar to join him. It was a class move, although Vingegaard had two teammates still up the road and Sepp Kuss not far behind. Pogacar and Vingegaard had a quick shake of the hand that felt like acceptance and also a thumbs up from the Slovenian.
There were a few minor hostilities on Hautacam but Pogacar was too beat up from his crash so when he failed to hold the wheel, it wasn’t a shock. Off Vingegaard went, soloing to victory, another minute up and Tour wrapped up, not matter what happens in the final 40k time trial.
The 2022 Tour de France will go down as one of the most thrilling editions in several decades. Today, two great champions went down hill and down and both ultimately survived.