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Pogacar, Vingegaard set for thrilling third act amid safety concerns
- Updated: June 28, 2023
The Tour de France looks set to be a battle between defending champion Jonas Vingegaard and twice winner Tadej Pogacar, but there is a question mark over the Slovenian’s form while riders’ safety will be scrutinised after the death of Gino Mader.
Pogacar was enjoying a sterling season, winning Paris-Nice and the Tour of Flanders, before breaking his wrist two months ago, leaving the 2020 and 2021 Tour winner fighting to make a full recovery before the Grand Depart in Bilbao on Saturday.
Pogacar’s UAE Emirates team has been reinforced with the recruitment of Britain’s Adam Yates and Felix Grossschartner – two major additions for the mountain stages.
If the 24-year-old is back to his best then the stage is set for a potentially vintage battle with Vingegaard.
The Danish rider, who will again be able to rely on the formidable Jumbo Visma team, won the Criterium du Dauphine and will start as the big favourite.
He and his team made Pogacar crack last year in the ‘stage of the century’ a year after Vingegaard took second place behind the Slovenian.
Pogacar, however, has earned the nickname ‘Baby Cannibal’ in reference to Belgian great Eddy Merckx and he will be out for revenge this year on a course that favours mountain battles and attacking riders.
Pogacar returned to competitive racing in his national championships earlier this month, winning both the time trial and road race titles, but the Tour is a different affair altogether.
He is expected to throw everything at Vingegaard as he did last year, when he attacked on all terrains, earning the support of the French crowds.
Descents played a substantial part in last year’s Tour, with Pogacar risking all to unsettle Vingegaard in the descent from the Col de Spandelles and Britain’s Tom Pidcock going down the Col du Galibier at breakneck speed en route to the stage win at L’Alpe d’Huez.
AT THE LIMIT
Both riders were at the limit, showcasing rare talent but also the dangers of going down an asphalt road at 100kph wearing lycra on tubeless tyres less than 3cm wide.
Swiss Gino Mader died earlier this month after crashing down a ravine in a descent at the Tour de Suisse, raising more questions about riders’ safety and triggering calls for safety nets in the most dangerous downhill sections.
The topic will be discussed at the teams’ meeting with organisers of the Tour on Wednesday, three days before the start in Bilbao.
The race will hit the Pyrenees after only five days with the first summit finish in Cauteret on Stage 6 after going up the punishing Col du Tourmalet, while pure sprinters might have a chance to shine the following day in Bordeaux.
This is where Mark Cavendish could break the all-time record for stage wins on the Tour de France that he currently shares with Merckx after taking 34 victories.
Behind Vingegaard and Pogacar, the battle to finish on the podium will rage on but none of those contenders could realistically expect to win the title.
Jai Hindley, Ben O’Connor, Mikel Landa, Enric Mas and Tom Pidcock all have a shot at the podium.
As do Frenchmen David Gaudu and Romain Bardet, but home fans will likely need to wait at least another year for a first French winner since 1985.
Thibaut Pinot, who was agonisingly close to winning the race in 2019 when he was forced to abandon injured two days from the finish, will be on a farewell Tour in his last season after taking fifth place overall on the Giro d’Italia and the crowd favourite will certainly provide some tear-jerking moments.
While Pinot is on his way out, 2019 champion Egan Bernal is making his comeback on the Tour three years after abandoning and a year after a high-speed crash left him with back, leg, knee and chest injuries.