The defending champion and the Slovenian all-rounder, who was repeatedly on the attack in the opening stages, went toe to toe for two weeks, entering the third block of racing separated by only 10 seconds, with the pair in a league of their own having relegated their challengers to the role of extras.
In Tuesday’s time trial, Vingegaard produced the performance of a lifetime to crush Pogacar and in a sport that has been marred by doping scandals, talk about a vintage duel gave way to scepticism, with the yellow jersey holder having to face repeated doping-related questions.
Vingegaard denied taking any performance-enhancing drugs and anti-doping authorities said the Danish rider had been tested 18 times – as of Thursday – on the Tour, eight times in June and at each of his three training camps at altitude.
On Wednesday, the win was effectively wrapped up for Vingegaard as Pogacar, whose preparation had been hampered after a wrist fracture in April, cracked in the last Alpine stage on the Col de la Loze, France’s toughest climb.
Pogacar bounced back to win the last mountain stage in the Vosges, but it was too late for the Slovenian, who has now finished second behind Vingegaard two years running.
“Last year, I had a lot of injuries and sickness in the spring and this year I didn’t have anything, which made a big difference. I’m just developing, getting better and better. But it’s not like I’m gaining 20% every year, I’m just getting slightly better,” Vingegaard said.
“We all have to make a lot of sacrifices. In a year I’m away from my family for more than 150 days to win races. But when you follow training plans, nutrition and training camps, it gives you confidence because you know you’ll be at your top level.”
The Tour is merciless and hopes can be dashed in a matter of seconds and this year’s edition offered a stern reminder of its cruelty. Several top riders – Romain Bardet, Enric Mas, Richard Carapaz, all top-five contenders – crashed out in a race that was marred by incidents.
On the Col de Joux-Plane, Pogacar came close to colliding with a race motorbike that was blocked by fans as he was gearing up for a sprint while Vingegaard was forced to put his foot on the ground while behind a TV motorbike and an organisers’ car on the Col de la Loze.
The battle for the general classification was effectively over that day as Pogacar, his jersey zipped wide open and his face drained of colour, suffered way back down the road, with his rival having disappeared into the distance.
Once that fight was over, the race lacked intriguing subplots, especially after a teary-eyed Mark Cavendish, chasing a record-breaking 35th stage win, crashed out in the eighth stage.
Belgian Jasper Philipsen dominated the bunch sprints, taking a total of four.
Emotions ran high on ‘Pinot day’ on Saturday, as France’s local hero produced his last mountain effort in the race, and when three riders from Bahrain Victorious claimed stage wins, dedicated to the memory of their former teammate Gino Mader, who died following a crash in the Tour de Suisse last month.
Vingegaard will now ‘relax’ and head for the Vuelta a Espana with team mate Primoz Roglic as Jumbo-Visma look to cement their domination on the grand tours as Ineos-Grenadiers (formerly known as Team Sky) once did.
This year, the British outfit – winners of all but one Tours between 2012-2019 – failed to make it on to the podium for the second time in the last four editions.
With Vingegaard, arguably the current best grand tour rider, in Spain, Pogacar might take part in the world championships. He will hope to add to his collection of one-day race titles and strengthen his status as the best all-round bike rider in the world – at least until Belgian prodigy Remco Evenepoel makes his Tour debut and turns what has been a classic dual into a captivating three-way battle.