Defending champion Jonas Vingegaard rode the time trial of his career to eclipse rival Tadej Pogačar and take a potentially Tour-winning 1 minute and 38 seconds out of the Slovenian in his first stage win of the year.
Pogačar now sits a daunting 1 minute and 48 seconds behind Jonas Vingegaard in the General Classification, a gap made to feel all the greater given how impossible it has proved to separate the pair in the Tour’s first fortnight.
It was clear within minutes of both the GC favorites starting the course that Vingegaard was on blistering form and immediately began taking time out of Pogačar.
Pogačar still rode an impressive time trial on the hilly course to Combloux, finishing 1 minute and 13 seconds ahead of third-placed Wout van Aert, but was no match for the devastating pace of Vingegaard.
Despite starting two minutes later, Vingegaard was just 22 seconds from catching Pogačar on the road.
Pogačar himself caught Carlos Rodriguez ahead of him, providing a visual demonstration of the extent to which the two rivals stand head and shoulders above the field.
In what has been – up to this point – an incredibly close battle between the two young riders, it will take something remarkable to change the pecking order at the top end of the GC in the final stages of this year’s Tour.
To Switch or not to switch?
Stage 16 was the only time trial of a 2023 Tour de France route which was remarkably light on miles against the clock.
The 22 km stage ended with a challenging 5 km climb, presenting a dilemma for the riders as to whether they should switch out their time trial bikes for road bikes in the final stretch.
Tadej Pogačar and his UAE teammates opted to switch out their bikes at the bottom of the climb with a penalty of around 15 seconds, whereas Vingegaard and Jumbo-Visma decided to climb on their time-trial bikes.
It seemed to pay off as a decision for Jumbo-Visma as van Aert and Vingegaard looked extremely comfortable climbing on the TT bikes, and Vingegaard even continued to take time out of Pogačar on the climb.
However, the importance of the decision to switch bikes was nullified by the vast gulf in performances between the two rivals on the day. If Pogačar wasn’t comfortable climbing on the TT bike, it’s possible he would have lost even more time had he stuck with it.
GC Riders Step Up
With the time trial coming a fortnight deep, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the GC riders – conditioned to maintain their performance across a three-week Grand Tour – outshone the rest of the field.
Pello Bilbao made yet another statement in a fantastic Tour de France as he finished fourth, despite being somewhat overshadowed by the drama further back on the road between Vingegaard and Pogačar.
British rider Simon Yates also exhibited his strength, beating Remi Cavagna’s early benchmark by 7 seconds.
“I think it was the best time trial I’ve ever done”
“I think today I even surprised myself with the time trial I did,” Vingegaard told ITV4. “I didn’t expect to do so well in the time trial today, to be honest.”
He was cautious to reiterate that the race is not over, however. “There’s still a lot of hard stages to come, so we have to keep fighting the next days. We’re looking forward to it.”
The unorthodox course today provided a slight difference in regular time trial tactics, as Vingegaard explained in his strategy for the day.
“It was divided into four parts. First was the flat part, and then the climb. You go quite hard until the climb, you go really hard on the climb. [Then] you try to recover in the descent, try to hold a little back on the flat part – and then the last climb was just full gas.
“But, you have to keep something for the last flatter part.”
Tour De France 2023: Stage 16 Results
1. Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma/DEN): 32:36
2. Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Team Emirates/SLO): + 1 minute, 38 seconds
3. Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma/BEL): + 2 minutes, 51 seconds
4. Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious/SPA): + 2 minutes, 55 seconds
5. Simon Yates (Jayco-AlUla/GBR): + 2 minutes, 58 seconds
6. Remi Cavagna (Soudal-QuickStep/FRA): + 3 minutes, 6 seconds
7. Adam Yates (UAE-Team Emirates/GBR): + 3 minutes, 12 seconds
8. Mattias Skjelmose (Lidl-Trek/DEN): + 3 minutes, 21 seconds
9. Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek/DEN): + 3 minutes, 31 seconds
10. David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ/FRA): + 3 minutes, 31 seconds
Tour De France 2023 General Classification Standings After Stage 16
1. Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma/DEN): 63:06:53
2. Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Team Emirates/SLO): + 1 minute, 48 seconds
3. Adam Yates (UAE-Team Emirates/GBR): + 8 minutes, 52 seconds
4. Carlos Rodriguez (Ineos Grenadiers/SPA): + 8 minutes, 57 seconds
5. Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe/AUS): + 11 minutes, 15 seconds
6. Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma/USA): + 12 minutes, 56 seconds
7. Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious/SPA): + 13 minutes, 06 seconds
8. Simon Yates (Jayco-AlUla/GBR): + 13 minutes, 46 seconds
9. David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ/FRA): + 17 minutes, 38 seconds
10. Felix Gall (AG2R-Citroen/AUT): + 18 minutes, 19 seconds