Tadej Pogacar gained a little more time on Jonas Vingegaard in the Tour de France on Friday, preferring to chip away at the reigning champion’s lead rather than making one huge move to grab the yellow jersey — and maybe clinch the Tour.
Though he finished the stage third of the day’s riders, Pogacar, who is from Slovenia, got the best of his rival for the third straight mountain stage, where the Tour is usually won or lost. But by delaying his attack until the last quarter-mile, he gained only eight seconds, and Vingegaard, a Danish cyclist, maintained a nine-second lead with 13 stages completed.
“In the end it was a successful day for us, and we take a couple of seconds back,” Pogacar said after the stage, adding: “The Tour is still long, and it’s a good situation for us. Now we go day by day and try to see for these kind of opportunities to take a couple of seconds.”
Jai Hindley of Australia held third but fell to 2:51 back of the lead, underlining the two-man nature of the race.
With flat terrain and only one minor climb earlier, Stage 13 came down to the final climb up the Col du Grand Colombier, in the Jura Mountains near the Swiss border. That mountain debuted on the Tour only in 2012 but already has developed a fearsome reputation, and is ranked hors catégorie, or “beyond categorization,” the designation for the most difficult climbs. It has been used as the finish of a stage only once before, in 2020, when Pogacar was first to the top on the way to his first Tour victory.
The first 76 miles of the 86-mile stage on Friday produced a breakaway of about 20 riders, including Michał Kwiatkowski of Poland, who went on to win the stage. But the real action began when the main pack, including Vingegaard and Pogacar, reached the foot of the Colombier.
Pogacar’s strong UAE Team Emirates took to the front of the pack and set a fierce pace. Pogacar rode directly behind his teammates, and Vingegaard sat right on his back wheel. One by one, riders fell off the back of the group, unable to keep up with the tempo. Then it remained a question of when Pogacar would attack. He waited longer than expected.
With 400 meters to go, Pogacar finally unleashed his unmatched acceleration. Only Vingegaard could go after him. Pogacar gained four seconds on his rival in that last quarter-mile and also picked up a four-second time bonus for finishing third in the stage.
Vingegaard had beaten Pogacar on the first major mountain stage last week, taking a 47-second lead and prompting speculation that he was on his way to winning back-to-back Tours. But Pogacar, the 2020 and 2021 winner, got the best of Vingegaard in the next two tough stages, gradually eroding his lead.
There is no letup for the riders as the race approaches the Alps. Saturday brings five climbs, and Sunday could be a showpiece stage of the Tour with a mountaintop finish at St.-Gervais Mont Blanc. Even after that monster stage, a time trial and two more mountain stages are to come next week.
Pogacar will consider that more than enough time to catch the leader. But Vingegaard is still in yellow a day closer to Paris.