Jonas Wingegaard | a recap of Stages 16-21 of the 2022 Tour de France

Jonas Vingegaard had forged a 2m22s advantage over Tadej Pogacar in the Alps during the second week of the Tour de France. The Pyrenees brought another minute on top of that to give him the kind of time gap that wasn’t going to be surrendered in the final time trial.

His team-mate Wout van Aert, meanwhile, had looked a sure thing for the green jersey ever since the first week. The Belgian duly secured that competition before busying himself chasing down the all-time record points tally.

Not a bad race for Jumbo-Visma, all told.

Skirmishes

Echoing the middle week of the race, Tuesday effectively served as an entrée for the main course to come. While it felt like anything could happen at any moment for much of the stage, ultimately there was a very high ratio of Tadej Pogacar attacks to meaningful change in the general classification.

The Slovenian’s first effort came with 50km to go and when it was unsuccessful, he simply tried again. For a while it felt like he’d just keep doing that until he finally arrived at a repetition when Vingegaard wouldn’t follow. That never came and he gave it a rest later in the day.

The stage ended with that 2m22s gap between the two men still in place.

Stage 17 was almost the opposite. Pogacar set what remained of his team to work on the climbs to keep the pace high. By the penultimate, he was down to one colleague – American rider, Brandon McNulty.

McNulty rode so hard that by the top it was just he and the two inseparable rivals. What could he possibly have left for the final climb? Enough to lead them all the way to the home straight, apparently.

It was no ordinary home straight though. The Peyragudes airstrip hits 20% with the final 200m averaging 16% despite levelling off to the finish line. In 2017, Chris Froome managed to lose 22s in not much more than a minute of riding on it.

This time around, Pogacar attacked, feigned hitting his limit, and then overtook Vingegaard near the line after teasing him into counter-attacking. It probably wasn’t a scenario where such japes made much difference. Pogacar is consistently the faster finisher of the two. His problem was that he needed to take minutes, not bonus seconds.

This was the story of the race really. Pogacar was more likely to finish ahead of Vingegaard on any given stage, but when the Dane did drop his rival, it was always on a tough summit finish where he stood to gain minutes.

After crossing the line, both men looked like they’d given absolutely everything, but 36m48s later we saw that wasn’t the case.

The time cut for the day meant that to stay in the race, riders needed to finish within 37m03s of Pogacar (+18% of his time). Stage 2 winner Fabio Jakobsen – the rider who underwent countless surgical procedures to repair his face and body after being pushed into the barriers at the 2020 Tour of Poland – cut it fine. After riding “on the limit” all day, he made it with just 15 seconds to spare. Just watch him collapse into the barriers at the end of this video. That’s a man who truly has nothing left to give.

The final sprint on the Champs Élysées isn’t the greatest stage of the race, but this is what it takes for some of those targeting it to get themselves on the start list.

The final mountain

Stage 18 was the final mountain stage and this was Vingegaard’s turn. Where Pogacar had taken bonus seconds after going flat-out in the final few hundred metres, Vingegaard detached himself from his rival with kilometres to go and took over a minute.

You have to be good at every aspect of road cycling to win the Tour de France, but as Wout van Aert will tell you, climbing the longest, steepest mountain passes is by far the most important element.

This is really van Aert’s only weakness and if it isn’t even that big a weakness, it’s nevertheless what keeps him from competing for the yellow jersey. Maybe there’s a future Tour route that might suit him more. He could also try shedding a kilo or two of muscle to see if that would bring him up to efficient col climbing speed, but doing that would risk losing so much of what currently makes him great.

Van Aert still played a significant part on this mountain though. Having been in the break and dropped everyone else who was in it, he was the first rider on the road when Vingegaard and Pogacar caught up with him for the final climb. He promptly set a pace that would bring him to a complete standstill with several kilometres still to climb. It was a pace that only Vingegaard could hold.

Pogacar had tried. He had attacked day after day. He had attacked on the previous climb. He had also pushed so hard on the descent after it that Vingegaard had looked panicked, dropping his chain at one point and almost falling off. Pogacar had pushed so hard in fact that he himself had overcooked a corner and ended up sliding off in some gravel.

When that happened, Vingegaard waited for him. He really didn’t need to do this, but when you’re already ahead and the best climber in the world with a summit finish to come, the price of civility isn’t so great.

The final time trial

Sometimes the final time trial is important in itself. More often, the threat of it is what spurs more meaningful action in the mountains. This one merely served as a neat reminder of what we’ve been watching these last three weeks

Geraint Thomas was fast, Tadej Pogacar was faster, Jonas Vingegaard was even faster and being as there was no huge mountain on the course, Wout van Aert was faster still.

What’s next?

The Tour de France Femmes is underway and it’s become a proper race – still shorter than what should surely now be called the Tour de France Hommes, but more than the tokenism we’ve had in recent years. I’m not going to be able to follow it properly unfortunately so I don’t plan on doing a recap this time around.

The Vuelta a Espana then runs from August 19 until September 11. I’ll aim for the usual weekly recaps and a preview beforehand (well it wouldn’t be much use afterwards).

I’ll finish with the usual reminder. Please sign up to get the recaps by email so that you don’t forget about this site and please also urge anyone else who might be interested to do the same.