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Depending on how you look at things and who you’re rooting for, it will take either an unforeseen disaster or miracle for Jonas Vinegaard to not finish atop the podium at the 2023 Tour de France, finishing just ahead of Tadej Pogačar for the second year in a row.
And how they finished 1-2 was a delightful battle for the ages that was filled with wonderful (and heartbreaking) surprises along the way.
If you've been been hooked on every stage like I've been, what follows is a recap of my favorite moments. If you haven't, but happen to be Tour curious, consider this a guide to stages worth checking out. Instead of binging Netflix, binge the Tour this weekend and get up to speed so you can watch the season finale live this Sunday.
This year's Tour rolled out from Spain and the terrain and Spanish cycling fans lining the course made the first stage a race of its own that turned out to be a family affair as twin brothers Adam and Simon Yates found themselves emerging from the stage's decisive breakaway with a 1-2 finish. The opening stage was not without disappointment though as Enric Mas and Richard Carapas, two riders with strong potential to animate the race, crashed out.
Then on Stage 2, a major drought ended for the Cofidis team. After 15 years of the French team winning a stage in their country’s biggest race, the team was beginning to feel like the Washington Generals of the peloton. That all changed when Victor Lafay was the victor in another stage decided by a breakaway.
Cut to Stage 5 and Australian Jai Hindley made his Tour debut one to remember with some clever and inspired tactics to solo to victory 30 seconds ahead of the field and with this being the first mountain stage, it was time for the biggest names in the race to take their place at the front of the peloton so this victory was especially impressive for the 2022 Giro d’Italia winner. Looking back, this stage proved to foreshadow what was going to unfold as Tadej Pogačar took his first swing of the race only to have Jonas Vinegaard counter and finish ahead of his rival by over a minute.
For as glorious as improbable as that victory was, the Cycling Gods can be just as cruel. The day after a hiccup with skipping rear derailleur kept Mark Cavendish from contesting a sprint, he hit the deck and crashed out of the race during Stage 8. His win in the final stage of the Giro d’Italia had the Manx Missile primed for a run at breaking Eddy Merckx’s all-time record but he finished his career tied with the Cannibal for Tour stage victories at 34 apiece.
And if that wasn’t enough drama, Vinegaard and Pogačar continued to trade seconds with each passing stage as the route wound its way through the mountains. Their budding rivalry that started in last year’s Tour is now in full bloom. But here’s the twist: it might be the most genuinely friendly rivalry we’ve ever seen. They’re both unrelentingly competitive yet completely gracious with each other on and off the bike. Their battle in Stage 9 up the Puy de Dôme was one for the ages that honored the iconic climb’s return to the Tour after a 35 year absence.
By the time the Tour entered its third week, the pair were separated by only 10 seconds and the stage was set for this year’s lone time trial to prove to be the deciding factor. On paper, short (22k) and mostly uphill Time Trial didn’t appear to pack much punch but coming after a rest day that followed three consecutive mountain stages made this little route a powder keg that was ready to detonate weary legs. After Wout Van Aert posted the fastest ride of the day (so far), Pogačar bested him by over a minute with a performance that put him into the virtual Yellow Jersey. However, he wouldn’t be slipping into the real thing as Vinegaard unleashed such a furious ride, he almost blew it in a couple of turns going uphill. By the time he finished, he’d be 1:48 ahead of Pogačar.
Then the following day, Vinegaard delivered a gentlemanly knockout blow to widen his lead to over seven minutes on a chaotic ride up to Courchevel that offered some of the most dramatic views of the Tour. The mountain stages this year were incredible. Courchevel featured 16,444 feet of climbing and the total elevation for this year was 188,248 feet, nearly 30,000 feet more than in 2022.
As the Tour enters its final weekend, there is still plenty to watch. Third place has yet to be decided (it could easily be either Yates brother) and the King of the Mountains jersey is still in place with Saturday’s final climbs on the docket. And I’d love to see Jumbo set up Sepp Kuss for a stage win. The 28-year-old American has worked his tail off and getting a chance at stage glory would be a nice reward- if the Cycling Gods choose to allow it.
Catch up and catch the final stages on Peacock or the Global Cycling Network (with some VPN trickery).
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