Vingegaard scoffs at Pogacar 'scared' slur, eyes third Tour de France win

Danish rider Jonas Vingegaard says he is the Tour's dark horse (Thomas SAMSON)
Danish rider Jonas Vingegaard says he is the Tour's dark horse (Thomas SAMSON)

Defending champion Jonas Vingegaard on Monday dismissed Tadej Pogacar's assertion he had been "scared" on their pulsating stage 9 gravel roads struggle where the Visma man sat on the challenger's wheel at every attack.

Instead Vingegaard struck back at the slight, suggesting his defensive ploy had simply gone over Pogacar's head.

"Maybe some people don't understand our tactics but that's their problem," said the softly spoken 27-year-old.

Chalk and cheese rivals Vingegaard and Pogacar are locked in an enthralling struggle for the 2024 Tour title after the first week, separated by 1min 15sec with newcomer Remco Evenepoel sat in-between.

The deadpan Dane and his Dutch Visma team won the past two Tours adhering to classic old school tactics - waiting for the moment when you are at your strongest and your rival is at his weakest, and striking a devastating blow.

"We only focused on not losing time yesterday," said Vingegaard, the 2022 and 2023 champion, after Sunday's run over the white gravel.

Pogacar and Evenepoel, however, said it was a pity Vingegaard had not helped them attack.

"I would have lost the Tour de France yesterday if I had done that. I'd had a puncture and was riding Jan's (teammate Tratnik) bike," Vingegaard said at his team hotel in Orleans Monday.

"I have my plan and I trust it. I'm generally better in the third week," he said.

In stark contrast to the modest champion, the swashbuckling Slovenian and fan favourite Pogacar is a proponent of the new cycling, applying top speed as often as possible and engaging in relentless attacks.

The 27-year-old Vingegaard hugged Pogacar's wheel throughout the first two weeks in 2023 before crushing his rival over two days, first with the stage 16 individual time trial and the next day on the stage 17 mountain finish.

Vingegaard finished the Tour in the yellow jersey, winning by 7min 29sec.

- Happy to be alive -

Vingegaard, however, suffered serious injuries in March and was hospitalised for 12 days, and is gingerly feeling his way back to full form.

"I've been lucky the first week hasn't been too hard," he said.

"I feel much better than expected, but I'm not quite on the form of last year yet.

Vingegaard said the crash at the Tour of the Basque Country had changed him deeply.

"I'm just first of all happy to be alive," he said.

"In the race it makes me a dark horse, not that I mind pressure, but here I'm under no pressure to win. If I lose, life goes on and, as I said, I'm really happy just to be alive now."

But Vingegaard is a long way from blowing off the 2024 Tour and a hat-trick of wins: his eyes remain very firmly on theprize.

"Last year I took seven and a half minutes in two days," he said. "So I'm racing carefully day by day. And racing for the victory."