Since the filming of James Bond Tomorrow never dies (1997), Peyragudes is known for his “Altiport 007”. But Wednesday July 20, Tadej Pogacar did not have the permit to reverse this Tour de France 2022. Admittedly, the Slovenian won this 17th stage between Saint-Gaudens (Haute-Garonne) and the Hautes-Pyrénées station, but the gain chronometric is less spectacular than a chase in a fighter jet between Pierce Brosnan and Russian terrorists.

The UAE gunslinger raised his arms well, but in the photo, Jonas Vingegaard was still right behind. Always in yellow, always impossible to let go, even in this final wall to bump your head with his steepness at 16% in the last 300 meters. “I fought until the finish. I’m happy with what I did and I only lost four seconds with the bonuses,” the Jumbo-Visma rider smiled behind his mask.

Four seconds as the difference between the ten bonuses awarded for first place and the six for second. The cat is skinny and Vingegaard’s lead (2:18) feels like a nice cushion. His parents can even think about where they will park their motorhome on Sunday, near the Champs-Elysées, to see their champion son parading. The pressure slips on the latter. His secret? “My girlfriend told me not to read the newspapers anymore and that’s what I’m doing,” he told France 2. The story of this second Pyrenean stage – short and explosive with its 129.7 km – yet worth reading.

Despite the loss of the precious Rafal Majka (injured during a chain break in the ascent of the Mur de Péguère on Tuesday), Tadej Pogacar was determined to leave for the fight with his last three teammates. Two rather, since the Swiss Marc Hirshi always drags his misery at the back of the pack. After a first spin from the Danish rider Mikkel Bjerg in the Hourquette d’Ancizan, Brandon McNulty took over. And what a relay! At the top of Val Louron-Azet, the native of Phoenix (Arizona) towed Pogacar and Vingegaard in his wheel. The latter had even lost his US lieutenant, Sepp Kuss, his mouth almost open, a sign of a rise like no other.

Change of tactics in the last ascent

“We were surprised by the strength of Bjerg and McNulty today, admits one of the sporting directors of Jumbo-Visma, Grischa Niermann. Jonas was alone, but in the end it was not a problem. The proof with this attack by Pogacar at the top of Val-Louron that Vingegaard accompanied like others go to buy their bread on their city bike. If the Slovenian wanted to “stress”, as announced, his dolphin in the 2021 Tour, it’s missed. We won’t take it again. At least for this Wednesday.

Wedged behind McNulty, Pogacar then focused on stage success, the ninth in three participations. “I’m very happy with this win, I wanted it,” he said. But do we have to believe it without reservation? If the word abdicate seems absent from his dictionary in Slovenian as in English, the double defending champion is still looking for the solution to solve the Vingegaard equation, of which he despairs of reading a sign of fatigue on his face as pale as it is impassive. Moreover, his sporting director and compatriot, Andrej Hauptman, admitted “a change of tactics in the last climb to focus on the stage”, the fault of “an incredible Jonas today”.

In front of the Jumbo-Visma bus, Sepp Kuss was always so affable and serene for his boss. “For us it was a good thing that Jonas was able to follow Pogacar until the last sprint. He delivered a superb performance. “For the moment, therefore, there is no fire at the Jumbo house and no one to evoke the specter of 2020 with this last fatal time trial for Primoz Roglic and Pogacar to spoil the party on the slopes of the Super Board of Beautiful Girls (Haute-Saône).

So to maintain the suspense, we rely on the indestructible formula “tomorrow is another day”. Thursday is above all another choice piece, with three passes (including Aubisque) and the formidable final climb to Hautacam. On the heights of Lourdes, Pogacar still believes in a miracle: “We will say that morale is better. Even though we’re down to four riders, the dynamics of the race have changed. We will leave with a lot of optimism. »

Vingegaard’s Perfect Run

The idea is always the same, and as old as cycling: keep your opponent under pressure, push him to a fault or wait for that famous day without, which, in the case of Vingegaard, still does not come. “With Tadej, you have to be constantly on the alert. We know he can attack when you least expect it, ”underlines the yellow jersey, as if to recall the pedigree of his opponent.

These are not things you say in front of an open microphone, but the yellow jersey knows that his final victory depends above all on him. Since taking power at the top of the Granon, during the 11th stage, the one who was employed (part-time) in a fish packaging factory has achieved the perfect race. Neither Pogacar’s attacks nor a crash on the road to Carcassonne and the loss of two teammates – Primoz Roglic and Steven Kruijswijk – on Sunday seemed to alter his confidence.

If the Dane still finishes in the wheel of Tadej Pogacar at Hautacam – famous for the stunning performance in 1996 of his compatriot Bjarne Riis, who later confessed to taking EPO – even the last time trial of 40, 7 km traced to Rocamadour (Lot) on Saturday should be a highway to his victory in Paris. “If the gap is not around a minute on the morning of the clock, I don’t see how Pogacar can win his third Tour, warns Cofidis manager Cédric Vasseur. Even if he is very strong, he can only take back 40 seconds, one minute. »

In this Tour de France, Jonas Vingegaard cried only once, of emotion, during the ovation of his public during the presentation of the teams in Copenhagen, on June 29. The second will perhaps be tears of happiness, on the podium with a view of the Arc de Triomphe, on Sunday. At 25, he has never been so close.