Tadej Pogačar delivered the perfect response to his Stage 5 struggles with a destructive late attack to drop Jonas Vingegaard and claim an epic victory on Stage 6 of the 2023 Tour de France.
Even more important than the psychological victory of decisively dropping Vingegaard for the first time in his career – just a day after many were questioning his chances of recovering any kind of title push – was the 28 seconds Pogačar took out of his Danish rival, reducing the GC deficit by half.
Stage 5 winner and overnight leader Jai Hindley finished 2:39 down to surrender the yellow jersey to Vingegaard.
Vingegaard & Co. punished for failure to dislodge Pogačar
In a stage for the ages, Vingegaard and his Jumbo-Visma teammates launched aggressive attacks on Pogačar on the iconic Col du Tourmalet 50 km from the finish in a bid to cash in on his apparent weakness, with his deputy Wout van Aert positioned to ride in tandem with the Dane to the finish to twist the knife and build an unassailable lead.
However, the failure to dislodge Pogačar on the Tourmalet caught Jumbo-Visma by surprise and left them scrambling to improvise a new gameplan as the Slovenian stalked them to the base of the final climb.
Van Aert provided a titanic pull on the first half of the final Category 1 climb to the finish in Cauterets, almost falling to the tarmac as he wobbled off at the end of his shift, but Vingegaard elected to ride defensively to limit the potential damage of a Pogačar counter.
Pogačar initially appeared content to mark Vingegaard to the finish, backing his superior sprint to claim the stage win while containing any further damage to his GC hopes.
However, the Slovenian’s natural racing instincts came to the fore when he launched a blistering attack 3 km from the finish, with Vingegaard unable to respond.
Despite Pogačar’s launch hitting speeds of over 30 km/h on a gradient above 6%, Vingegaard appeared to have limited the damage to around ten seconds – and was even beginning to reel his rival back in.
In the final kilometer, however, Vingegaard’s legs packed in, and Pogačar was able to amplify the damage to recover the bulk of the time he lost when he cracked under the Dane’s pressure on Stage 5.
In the end, Vingegaard crossed 24 seconds after Pogačar and lost a further 4 seconds in bonuses, slashing his General Classification lead from 53 to 25 seconds.
Hindley unable to sustain threat of serious yellow jersey challenge
Despite losing out to Pogačar, Vingegaard will have the consolation of starting Thursday’s Stage 7 in the yellow jersey after Australia’s Jai Hindley was unable to cling on to the pair as they battled ahead.
After being touted by many as a serious GC contender following his landmark victory yesterday, the Australian cracked on the Col du Tourmalet as Jumbo-Visma heaped on the pressure and will be bitterly disappointed to have been cut adrift so emphatically.
Although Hindley mounted a solid recovery to limit the damage and cross the line in a creditable sixth position, any serious hopes he harbored of winning the Tour appear to have been nipped in the bud given the quality of the pair in front of him.
Though Pogačar’s struggles on Stage 5 cast doubts on pre-race predictions of a two-horse race and appeared to have levered open a window of opportunity, the duo’s performances today firmly slammed them shut again and re-established the pair’s position in a league of their own.
“It’s going to be a big battle to the last stage”
At the stage finish, Pogačar reflected with satisfaction on a job well done.
“I would not say it’s revenge, but it feels sweet to win and to take some time back”, the Slovenian told ITV4. “I feel a little bit relieved, I feel much better now.
“The display Jonas showed yesterday was incredible. I was thinking, when they started to pull on the Tourmalet, [that] if it’s going to happen like yesterday we can pack our bags and go home, but luckily I had good legs today and I could follow.
“I felt quite comfortable, and when I felt it was the right moment in the end I attacked and it was a big relief. I would say now it’s almost the perfect gap, and it’s going to be a big battle until the last stage I think.”
Given the quality of the racing that cycling fans have been treated to so far, they could be forgiven for needing a reminder that we’re still only on Stage 6.
If, as Pogačar predicts, his duel with Vingegaard is sustained until the final stages, this year’s Tour is shaping up to be one for the ages.
Stage six results
1. Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Emirates/SLO): 3 Hours, 54 Minutes, 27 Seconds
2. Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma/DEN): + 24 secs
3. Tobias Halland Johannessen (Uno-X/NOR): +1 min, 22 secs
4. Ruben Guerreiro (Movistar/POR): + 2 mins, 6 secs
5. James Shaw (EF Education-EasyPost/GB): + 2 mins, 15 secs
6. Jai Hindley (BORA-hansgrohe/AUS): + 2 mins, 39 secs
7. Carlos Rodriguez (Ineos Grenadiers/SPA): Same time
8. Simon Yates (Team Jayco-AlUla/GB): Same time
9. Adam Yates (UAE-Emirates/GB): + 3 mins, 11 secs
10. Romain Bardet (DSM/FRA): Same time
General classification after stage six
1. Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma/DEN): 26 Hours, 10 Minutes, 44 Seconds
2. Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Emirates/SLO): + 25 secs
3. Jai Hindley (BORA-hansgrohe/AUS): + 1 min, 34 secs
4. Simon Yates (Team Jayco-AlUla/GB): + 3 mins, 14 secs
5. Carlos Rodriguez (Ineos Grenadiers/SPA): + 3 mins, 30 secs
6. Adam Yates (UAE-Emirates/GB): + 3 mins, 40 secs
7. David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ/FRA): + 4 mins, 3 secs
8. Romain Bardet (DSM/FRA): + 4 mins, 42 secs
9. Thomas Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers/GB): Same time
10. Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma/USA): + 5 mins, 28 secs