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The Dane has been the yellow jersey’s shadow on the finishes at La Super Planche des Belles Filles on stage 7 and stage 9’s conclusion in Châtel, the only man who has managed to stay with the Slovenian’s vicious, late accelerations to the finish line.
Now, he is the closest challenger, second overall and 39 seconds down. Those losses have been gathered accumulatively in the race-opening time trial, over the cobblestones, and with Pogačar’s bonus seconds.
“It’s not a lot, it’s only one bad day, you can say,” Vingegaard said. “But I guess Tadej doesn’t have bad days; he’s very, very strong. We’ll have to do our best and try to challenge him.”
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Vingegaard admitted to looking back on the first nine stages with “a bit of mixed feelings. With the crashes and losing time on the cobbled stages when I dropped the chain, we had our bit of unluck. Ever since, it’s been good again.”
He added: “The crash was not so nice, and Primož lost a few minutes there, but we’ll keep on fighting. There are still two weeks to go.”
The Dane finished runner-up to Pogačar last year and looked like the only rider to truly stretch the yellow jersey in the mountains. Does he believe it’s a one-on-one battle against him, already?
“No, I think there are a lot more riders that fight for the victory and do some attacks, it’s not only me and Tadej. We’ll just have to see in the next weeks how everything will fold out.”
Then there’s the other, invisible rival for every race contender: COVID-19. “Yeah, I mean…,” Vingegaard started and coughed theatrically, to laughter from the journalists.
“There have been some teams with cases, but we haven’t until now. We’re feeling good. Of course, there’s a chance you get it, so I cross my fingers I don’t have COVID and can start on Tuesday.”
Kuss reflects on tough day
Meanwhile, his Jumbo-Visma teammate Sepp Kuss rode to 19th place on stage 9, finishing with compatriot Neilson Powless, just off the back of the group of challengers.
“It was a tough day, like it always is the day before the rest day. UAE rode a super good pace, they were really strong today,” Kuss told VeloNews.
“I think for a while, they were maybe thinking of the stage win, but the break stayed away. I think the whole [Jumbo-Visma] team was super strong today.”
Kuss’ optimistic reflections on the race so far echoed those of Vingegaard. “It’s been a good week, always up and downs, but I think we can be happy with where we are, also the stage wins [of Wout van Aert].
“I think that really helps the morale and now the big mountain stages will start.”