Johan Bruyneel: Tadej Pogacar is not unbeatable


The contrast with twelve months ago is stark. After the eighth stage to Le Grand Bornand in the 2021 Tour de France, Tadej Pogacar had a lead of no less than five minutes over Jonas Vingegaard. Now that difference after the eighth stage is only 39 seconds. That is a lead of nothing, which makes it clear that this Tour is still completely open.

With two stage wins and the yellow jersey on his shoulders, Tadej Pogacar remains the big favorite to win the Tour de France again. However, he is certainly not unbeatable. On Friday, in the ride to Longwy, I found him impressive sprinting to victory. A day later to La Planche des Belles Filles, however, he had a much harder time. Perhaps we have become a bit spoiled by his performances and we automatically assume that he is head and shoulders above everything else. That is not yet the case in this Tour.

Jonas Vingegaard is going to be a formidable opponent. Last year, to his own surprise, the Dane ended up at the top of the standings. The battle for yellow was already decided after the first Alpine stage. Day by day, the Dane improved and even got Pogacar in trouble on the Mont Ventoux.

The self-confidence that Vingegaard has gained in that Tour has been taken directly into this season. His second places in the Tirreno-Adriatico and the Critérium du Dauphiné prove that he has become stronger again. You also see that image in this Tour.

Photo: Cor Vos

How the Jumbo-Dane accelerated 200 meters from the finish on La Planche des Belles Filles while everyone was one hundred percent at their limit, was quite impressive. If you then see that Pogacar still crawls towards him and passes him before the finish line, then you see the real winner in the Slovenian.

Still, I think Pogacar and his UAE Emirates team made a mistake at La Planche des Belles Filles. There was an ideal opportunity to give the yellow jersey to a harmless rider for a few days and to let a strong team take control of the race for a few days.

I would have thought it ideal if Lennard Kämna had taken over the yellow jersey with a lead of two or three minutes. Then you would have had a good team with BORA-hansgrohe that would lead the race, so that you can save your own team. Of course you don’t easily give a victory in the Tour and La Planche des Belles Filles was very special for Pogacar. However, if you want to win the Tour, you have to think of the yellow in Paris with every action. Sometimes you have to sacrifice other prices for that.

Especially when you know that UAE Emirates has to do more than enough work in the next two weeks. They still have to deal with two blocks that are still very strong in width: Jumbo-Visma and INEOS-Grenadiers. In addition, they lost an important pawn due to corona with Vegard Stake Laengen. When you have to defend the yellow jersey, you need not only climbers in the mountain stages, but also riders who cross a mountain and then set the pace in the valley. Laengen was an ideal man for that and they will certainly miss him at certain times in the coming weeks.

For the time being, the Tour seems to be mainly a battle between Pogacar and Vingegaard. In the direct duels, Pogacar remains the favorite. If Jumbo-Visma and INEOS-Grenadiers want to have a chance, they will have to put pressure on his team. That means that men like Primoz Roglic, Adam Yates and Felipe Martinez should not wait until the last mountain, but should take the initiative earlier.

Wearing out his squad and isolating Pogacar are the most important tasks for the competition. Although his right hand Rafal Majka still makes a strong impression on me. When he sets the pace uphill, there are no more ten riders who can join.

Photo: Cor Vos

In the hand-to-hand duels, we first have to see if someone is able to catch up with Pogacar. However, Vingegaard in particular will have motivation after his action at La Planche des Belles Filles and will take courage from this for the Alps and Pyrenees. In any case, it will be a very different Tour than last year.

In Lausanne, Pogacar sprinted well to third place. But the big winners on Swiss soil were Wout van Aert and Jumbo-Visma. I think Jumbo-Visma has done a smart job in helping to keep the peloton closed in Lausanne.

With his second stage win, Van Aert has almost won the green jersey. The only one who could still threaten him is Pogacar, but he will not be concerned with the points classification at all. If Van Aert collects some points here and there, it is green in his pocket. The fact that he has made such a big gap in this classification after eight stages is a sign of his class.

Jumbo-Visma has satisfied Van Aert with this. The green jersey, two stage wins and the yellow jersey for four days. This means that the team can now switch completely to plan A. And that is their code yellow. Winning the Tour de France. All attention can now be focused on their main goal. It could be two very fun and exciting weeks.