Jonas Vingegaard fired off a blistering ride on a hilly time trial in the Tour de France on Tuesday, winning the stage and seizing control of the race with less than a week until its finish in Paris. His time over the 14 miles was a yawning 1 minute 38 seconds better than that of his rival, Tadej Pogacar, and that lengthened his 10-second overall lead to 1:48, potentially a decisive margin.
For two weeks, Pogacar, of Slovenia, had been whittling away at the early lead of Vingegaard, of Denmark, using his fierce acceleration in carefully timed bursts to blast away on the steepest mountain climbs and steal seconds. The result has been the greatest head-to-head Tour battle in many years.
But sudden acceleration and tactical subtlety were less important on Tuesday’s Stage 16. It was a time trial, with each rider individually traveling a short but hilly course from Passy to Combloux in the Alps.
Instead it was about sustained speed on the flat, downhill and, most important, uphill sections. Pogacar hardly underperformed; he had comfortably the second-best time of the day. But Vingegaard was that much better.
“I’m the first among humans today,” said Wout van Aert, who finished in third. There was no catching Vingegaard or Pogacar on Tuesday.
This year’s event is a rare Tour de France because it has only the one time trial. A time trial is often called “the race of truth.” There are no teammates to set the pace or shadow rivals, just a rider, his bike and the clock.
Pogacar started next to last, with Vingegaard taking off two minutes later.
The first time check, at four and a half miles, after an easier part of the course, showed Vingegaard 16 seconds ahead. He stretched that to 31 seconds at the second check. At the third check, the lead was 1:05.
That was when Pogacar made a last throw of the dice, opting to change his bike for the final climb. He hopped off his time trial bike, with its aerodynamically optimized disc back wheel, and got on a standard road bike, with spokes on both wheels, more suitable for climbing. Pogacar’s U.A.E. team judged that the few seconds lost by the bike change would be compensated by time gained on the climb.
But Vingegaard was apparently not held back by sticking with his time trial bike, and the gap only lengthened.
“I was feeling great today,” he said. “I think it’s the best time trial I’ve ever done.” Asked if he expected such a significant victory, he replied: “To be honest, no. I think today I even surprised myself.”
Pogacar was philosophical but undaunted. “It’s a big gap now,” he said. “I was hoping to be in yellow today.”
“It’s definitely not over,” he added. “Especially if tomorrow is raining, then I can promise you it’s going to be interesting. Two more really hard stages to come, I think the hardest two of this Tour.” Those mountain stages come on Wednesday and Saturday before the final ceremonial stage finishing in Paris on Sunday.
During Tuesday’s stage, the odds on overall victory shifted significantly, with close to even odds for the two riders rapidly changing to Vingegaard favored over Pogacar by 10 to 1.
“It’s not easy to gain two minutes,” Pogacar acknowledged. “But we’ll try.”