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Tadej Pogačar steamrolled the mountains and flattened his grand tour foe last week on the road toward the Cote d’Azur, a race “to the sun” historically seen to herald the incoming Tour de France champion.
So what does that mean for Vingegaard and his yellow jersey defense?
A lot, but also not that much.
“I can work on my shape for the Tour,” Vingegaard said after he was dropped and distanced by Pogačar a third time in four days Sunday. “I don’t think I have my top level yet, I still have a bit of work to do.”
‘Last year at Tirreno, Jonas couldn’t follow, but at the Tour, he topped me’
Comparison to the one-of-an-era talent that is Pogačar may be unfair on Vingegaard.
The Slovenian wins races for fun, and admitted Sunday after winning overall in Nice he’s already nearly at his best level.
But there’s no hiding that Vingegaard was also blown off the wheel by David Gaudu in one of the Frenchman’s best weeks yet, was outclimbed by WorldTour rookie Kévin Vauquelin, and lacked even a hint of the swagger and superiority of a TdF top dog.
- Vingegaard put on the ropes by Pogačar at Paris-Nice
- Commentary: Here’s hoping Pogačar never changes
Vingegaard is a long way from convincing so far in 2023. Sure, he won all three stages and the overall at O Gran Camiño, but, sorry second and third-place Jesús Herrada and Ruben Guerreiro, you ain’t grand tour-winning material.
OK, so third overall in a race as prestigious as Paris-Nice is no mean feat.
The Dane broke under Pogačar’s bludgeoning on La Loges de La Gard and was left a bystander the Slovenian’s attack Sunday on the Eze. But his gutsy comeback on the mountain finish Sunday showed the Chris Froome-esque resilience and relentlessness that defines grand tour greats.
Vingegaard took a similar hammering by Pogačar this time last year at Tirreno-Adriatico and looked like he had a new set of legs four months later. He and Primož Roglič crushed the Critérium du Dauphiné before the Dane went on to dazzle at the Tour de France.
Plenty of other imminent Tour de France champions looked similarly legless in the early season. Just look at Froome and Vincenzo Nibali before they won yellow in the middle of last decade, and many more big champions before them.
Even the season-gobbler that is Pogačar admitted that form in March is not the same as fitness in July. Racers like him, Roglič, and Remco Evenepoel who win from February through the fall are relative anomalies.
“Last year at Tirreno, Jonas couldn’t follow, but at the Tour, he topped me,” Pogačar said Sunday. “So you never know, maybe someone else will step on top of the podium this year.”
Jumbo-Visma and its high-altitude winner’s academy
All that said, Vingegaard and Jumbo-Visma will need their altitude camp winner’s-academy to come very good in the coming months.
The defensive riding Vingegaard was forced to rely on to hit the podium on Cote d’Azur won’t work when Pogačar comes out blazing this summer in his quest for Tour de France redemption.
Jumbo-Visma made it a trademark to send top racers flying out of altitude camps. Trips to Teide and Tignes have turned Vingegaard, Roglič, and Wout van Aert into winning machines seemingly in the space of three weeks.
Vingegaard will likely land at the Tour de France in three and a half months a rider transformed.
Racing through the Basque Country and Dauphiné, and two or more big blocks living and riding on top of mountains, should add the edge the Dane was sorely short of at the “Race to the Sun.”
And when the Tour rolls out, riders like Van Aert, Sepp Kuss, and Dylan van Baarle will be at Vingegaard’s side for a team that relies on a deep eight to deliver victory with its “total racing” style.
“Pogačar was clearly a level better this week, but that doesn’t take away that we’re happy with where Jonas is on his form curve,” Jumbo-Visma director Grischa Niermann said Sunday. “We go to every race to win and go for victory, but we have to accept that Pogačar was better this week.”
Paris-Nice may be a stage race in France, but it’s certainly not the Tour de France. However, Pogačar comes out of the “Race to the Sun” with the wind at his back and some big bragging rights for the races to come.
The road to the Tour de France this time of year is long for all yellow jersey hopefuls. But that road might now seem a little bit longer for Vingegaard.