Vingegaard and Pogacar set to resume Tour de France rivalry. Doubts remain over Vingegaard’s fitness

When Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogacar faced off in the heat of July last year, the main question mark was whether Pogacar would be fit enough to mount a decent challenge.

This year, as the two cyclists prepare to write the next chapter of one of the greatest rivalries in the storied history of the Tour de France, the scenario has switched.

Pogacar, the two-time champion from Slovenia who finished behind Vingegaard the past two years, is in top shape ahead of Saturday’s start in the Italian city of Florence. It is the form of the Danish titleholder that is worrying his team following the crash that wreaked havoc with his season.

“Of course, we don’t know how far he can go yet,” said Merijn Zeeman, the sporting director of Vingegaard’s team. “We are being cautious because he has not been able to race and his preparation has been less than ideal, to say the least.”

Vingegaard was hospitalized for nearly two weeks in Spain in April following a high-speed crash in the Tour of the Basque Country. He sustained a broken collarbone and ribs and a collapsed lung.

He has not raced competitively since that crash but will be immediately put to the test this weekend with an opening stage that takes riders through a series of tricky hills and climbs that could set the scene for an early battle between the top contenders.

Before the crash, Vingegaard was among the Tour favorites after dominating the race the past two years. It’s now impossible to say how his body will respond over three weeks of intense cycling.

“We have worked together to get to this moment and, of course, I am very excited to see where I stand. I feel good and very motivated,” Vingegaard said.

As for Pogacar, he doesn’t ask himself too many questions as he pursues a rare double following his victory at the Giro d’Italia this season.

”It’s already my fifth time coming to the Tour and I’m really excited about it,” said Pogacar, whose Tour preparations last year were hampered by a crash that left him with a broken wrist. “We’ve worked really hard all year as a team to prepare for this and we hope we can give everyone watching three weeks of exciting racing.”

Pogacar is arguably the most exciting rider of his generation, capable of winning on all terrains with an appetite for victory that has drawn comparisons with the great Eddy Merckx.

And as if his own talent was not enough, he will be supported by a UAE Emirates squad also featuring Juan Ayuso, Pavel Sivakov, Marc Soler, Nils Politt, Adam Yates, Joao Almeida and Tim Wellens.

“We’ve spent a lot of time together as a group training at altitude and put in a lot of hours in the saddle,” Pogacar said. “We’re in a really good place as a group. We just can’t wait to get started and hope to fight for the win.”

Vingegaard is also part of a strong squad, the Visma-Lease a Bike team. He’ll be supported by the versatile Wout van Aert, a three-time cyclocross world champion whose Tour resume includes nine stage victories and the prestigious points classification. Matteo Jorgenson of the U.S. is also part of the squad alongside Christophe Laporte, Tiesj Benoot, Wilco Kelderman, Jan Tratnik and Bart Lemmen.

Behind Pogacar and Vingegaard, other contenders include Primoz Roglic and Tour rookie Remco Evenepoel, with the Ineos Grenadiers leader Carlos Rodriguez also in the mix.

Nice new finish

For the first time since 1905, the final stage of the race will be held outside Paris due to a schedule clash with the Olympics. Because of security and logistical reasons, the French capital won’t have its traditional Tour finish on the Champs-Elysees. The race will instead conclude in Nice on July 21, five days before the Paris Olympics open.

The first stage in Italy includes more than 3,600 meters (11,800 feet) of climbing. High mountains will then be on the schedule as soon as the fourth day in a race that features two individual time trials and four summit finishes. There are seven mountain stages on the program, across four ranges. Riders will first cross the Alps during Stage 4, when they will tackle the 2,642-meter (6,562-foot) Col du Galibier.

There should be suspense right until the very end because the last stage, traditionally a victory parade in Paris for the race leader until the final sprint takes shape, will be a 34-kilometer (21.1-mile) individual time trial between Monaco and Nice.

Cavendish chasing a record

Britain doesn’t have a top contender for the yellow jersey. Across the Channel, all eyes will be on veteran sprinter Mark Cavendish, who has delayed his retirement in a bid to set a record for most career stage wins at the Tour.

Cavendish equaled Merckx’s record of 34 stage wins during the 2021 Tour, 13 years after his first success, and went close to winning a 35th in the seventh stage of the 2023 edition. But he crashed during the eighth stage last summer, breaking his right collarbone. He’s won the Tour’s best sprinter green jersey twice and also claimed stages at all three Grand Tours — the Tour, the Giro and the Spanish Vuelta — and was the world champion in 2011.


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