It’s time for round four: Is Pogačar vs Vingegaard cycling’s most iconic rivalry?

The duo will go head-to-head again in this year’s Tour de France after drastically different preparations

One is smiley, enthusiastic and jovial, the other is stoic, serious and focused. One gets out of the saddle and punches on the pedals in bursts of short attacks, the other sits down and taps out a metronomic rhythm. One dive bombs into swimming pools on Tour de France rest days, and the other has a team boss who criticises riders for drinking beer. Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard are a series of contrasts.

It’s this which makes the rivalry between the pair which has shaped the last three years of the Tour de France so intriguing. They are so different in their demeanours, yet so similar in their physical capabilities on a bicycle. When they are both on the top of their game, there is barely anything separating Pogačar and Vingegaard in the high mountains – they are, arguably, the two best stage racers in this generation of professional cyclists.

Photo: ASO/Charly Lopez

The Giro d’Italia this year gave a glimpse into what life with Pogačar would be like without Vingegaard. The Slovenian rider won the Italian stage race with what appeared to be relative ease, putting time into his rivals with effortless style, creating gaps with one or two devastating attacks. There was no one who could match the Pogačar power on the climbs. In the Tour, on the other hand, Vingegaard pushes Pogačar, and Pogačar pushes Vingegaard. 

"I think the relationship between me and Jonas is something extraordinary. It's crazy that we write this history ourselves as rivals. I appreciate this rivalry because I respect him a lot,” Pogačar said in a press conference a few days before this year’s Grand Départ in Florence.

Whether we will see the close-fought racing between the duo again in this year’s Tour is yet to be determined. Further adding to their contrasting states, each rider's preparations for the Tour have been starkly different. While Pogačar was dominating in Italy, Vingegaard was recovering from a catastrophic crash in the fourth stage of Itzulia Basque Country, where he suffered a broken collarbone and several broken ribs. 

Image: James Startt

“Everything from here is a bonus. Just that I'm here at the start line is a victory,” Vingegaard told the media on Thursday, downplaying his chances in the general classification. “And from here, if I get a result, I will be very happy. Of course, if I wouldn't have crashed, I would definitely say I'm here for victory. But things have changed in the last three months. I still have my hopes that I'm good enough to fight for the victory at least. But I guess we will see.”

A few moments after Vingegaard spoke, Pogačar revealed that he contracted Covid-19 after the Giro d’Italia, so his preparations haven’t been as smooth as he would have wished, either: “It's not as serious anymore. Especially if your body already had the virus before and I had it once or twice," Pogačar said. “It wasn't too bad, just like a cold. It passed really fast.”

Regardless of who eventually wins this year’s Tour after a few turbulent months of preparation, the relationship between Pogačar and Vingegaard is special because of the history that both riders have written over the past few years in the Tour de France. While Vingegaard's crash put doubt on whether he would make it to the Tour at all and there are question marks over his form, his presence in this race is extremely important. Cycling needs rivalries to follow and talk about, and Pogačar vs Vingegaard has provided boundless entertainment for cycling fans. However impressive it was to watch the Slovenian rider’s dominant display at the Giro d’Italia this year, cycling needs riders who fight it out, mano a mano, for victory. That is what makes the sport special.

Rachel Jary

Cover image: James Startt

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