Il Lombardia: Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard square off for first time since Tour de France

The Italian monument marks a new chapter in the pair's growing rivalry that now extends to one-day classics and monuments.

Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images

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Cycling’s newest rivalry expands Saturday to one of cycling’s most explosive one-days as Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard square off for the first time since Tour de France at Il Lombardia.

Their calendars have been full since July, with each garnering victories after leaving the Champs-Élysées. They cross paths again Saturday on the hills of northern Italy for the season’s fifth and final monument, but it’s not some celebratory lap to finish out the season.

Both are racing to win.

Pogačar returns as defending champion, and Vingegaard lines up to show the peloton he’s more than “just” a stage racer.

Expectations are sky-high, and Saturday’s clash should be an interesting marker for a duel that could last for the better part of a decade.

“Jonas has shown that he is in good shape and feels good. He appeared at ease and made some solid efforts during the recon ride,” said Jumbo-Visma sport director Addy Engels. “It will explode on the San Fermo’s first pass. On the Civiglio, we must have one or two riders next to Jonas. After that, it’s up to him and a select group of top favorites who will fight for the win.”

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That’s just what everyone is hoping for to cap what’s been a thrilling 2022 racing season.

Pogačar has been on a high boil all season long, winning from February to October.

Vingegaard was a bit slower out of the gate, and hit his peak exactly at the right time in July to dethrone Pogačar in a tactical mastermind on the road to the Col du Granon.

In fact, this season’s narrative reflects each rider’s temperament and career trajectory. Pogačar is like a bolt out of a blue since turning pro in 2019, winning 45 races and finishing third or better in every grand tour he’s raced.

In contrast, the more low-key Vingegaard also turned pro in 2019, but he’s been a steadier, more traditional climb to the top. His first win also came in his rookie season, but he only emerged as a true grand tour contender in 2021 before dismantling Pogačar and UAE Team Emirates in spectacular fashion this summer.

Their career paths are now firmly intertwined, and this weekend’s Lombardia is the next chapter in what will drive the narrative in the peloton for the next several seasons.

The pair will be favorites to win every race they start, be it stage races, grand tours, and now one-day classics and monuments.

“I’m excited for Il Lombardia. It’s a different route this year but in a race like this with the strength of the field we know will be hard regardless,” Pogačar said. “I think the condition is where it needs to be heading into the race and the team is really strong, too. It’s a beautiful race to finish off what has been a really nice season.”

Equaling the balance of power

Vingegaard soon took away the yellow jersey, shown here at Planche des Belles Filles. (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

When comparing the two riders, Pogačar comes out on top in just about every metric.

The Slovenian’s won more races — 45 to Vingegaard’s 12 — and he’s consistently finished ahead of his Danish rival when they’ve faced off before.

In stage racing, the duo raced as U23 riders in two races, with Pogačar winning both times, first at the GP Priessnitz and the Tour de l’Avenir in 2018. Since turning pro, Pogačar was sixth to Vingegaard’s middle-of-pack 32nd at the 2019 Itzulia Basque Country, and Pogačar won the 2021 UAE Tour.

But it was at the UAE race in 2021, when Vingegaard beat Pogačar at the Jebel Jais summit, that the Dane seemed to turn the corner on questions of self-confidence and doubt. That was the first legitimate confirmation that Vingegaard packed the potential to race at the highest level.

A few months later, Vingegaard and Pogačar shared the podium in second and third, respectively, behind Primož Roglič in that year’s spectacular 2021 edition of Itzulia.

Pogačar still seemed to have Vingegaard’s number, however, beating him handily at the 2021 Tour and relegating him into second again at Tirreno-Adriatico in March this year.

The tables were turned and the power scale reset to equal in July after Jumbo-Visma dismantled Pogačar on the Col de Galibier, and Vingegaard finished it off in Paris.

Pogačar holds clear advantage in one-days

Tadej Pogačar out-kicked Wout van Aert in sensational style in Montréal. (Getty Images)

While the pair match up evenly in stage racing, Pogačar carries a clear advantage Saturday in one-day racing.

The pair has faced off only nine times in one-day racing, and Pogačar’s finished ahead of Vingegaard on every occasion that the Slovenian finished the race. Last year’s Il Lombardia saw Pogačar victorious to Vingegaard’s 14th.

Pogačar’s aggressive and more explosive style of racing is better suited to the classics than Vingegaard’s, but that’s starting to change as the Dane matures and expands his skillset.

Vingegaard won his first one-day race this spring at the Drôme Classic in France and was eighth last year at the Clásica San Sebastián.

Pogačar, however, is emerging as one of the most potent one-day races in the peloton.

Though he will never have the pure brawn to take the likes of Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel in Paris-Roubaix, he could someday win Milan-San Remo and Flanders to go with his Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia titles.

Just days after barnstorming to victory at Strade Bianche, this spring he took Van der Poel to the limit at Flanders in what was a spectacular confirmation of his skills in one-day racing.

Five of his 45 victories have come in one-day races, and all of them are high-level quality.

What to expect Saturday?

Saturday’s Il Lombardia will be an exciting new chapter in the pair’s growing rivalry that now extends beyond stage racing.

The pre-race hype is focused on the imminent retirements of Alejandro Valverde and Vincenzo Nibali, but the future is now in Italy.

Both roll into Lombardia with wins in their pockets. Pogačar won GP de Montréal and Tre Valli Varesine, and was second at Giro dell’Emilia. Vingegaard won two stages and finished second at the CRO Race based on time bonuses.

“The start of the race is now the final from last year. That will be challenging right away,” said Jumbo-Visma’s Engels. “The final is always quite difficult, while the middle part looks much easier. I anticipate a strong group, with the favorites only appearing in the front in the final.”

Expect both of them to be in the frame Saturday for the win.

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