Champion-in-waiting Jonas Vingegaard leads the Tour de France peloton into Paris on Sunday on the final day of a storied race animated by a tense tussle with two-time former winner Tadej Pogacar.
The winners jerseys for the various disciplines will be awarded — yellow for overall champion Vingegaard, white for Pogacar as best youngster, Giulio Ciccone polka dot for best climber and Jasper Philipsen the green for his four sprint finish wins.
The 150 or so remaining riders cycle into Paris along the banks of the Seine and roll past the cafes and clubs of Saint Michel towards the culminating eight laps of the Champs Elysees.
Vingegaard, the champion also in 2022, described the race as “the best in the world” after three intense weeks that started in Bilbao on July 1.
Jumbo’s sports director Merijn Zeeman told AFP ahead of the stage their star had repaid their belief in him.
“The joy was more extreme last year, it’s hard to compare wins, perhaps this time the joy is deeper,” Zeeman said.
Tour director Christian Prudhomme describe the struggle between the two chief protagonists in boxing terms.
“They went 15 rounds and then there was a punch in the gut, a knee on the floor and a knock out punch,” he said Sunday.
Pogacar constantly attacked in the rolling hills of the Basque Country.
But Vingegaard stunned the Slovenian in the Pyrenees to take a lead of just under a minute before his rival clawed back seconds here and there in the vineyards of Bordeaux and Beaujolais and on the highlight July 14 ascent of the Puy de Dome.
The race was decided over a quartet of Alpine stages in week three, where Vingegaard looked stronger but bided his time until a sizzling time trial shattered his rival.
On the Queen stage climb to the chic Courchevel ski resort Pogacar snapped, as Vingegaard skipped away to take a lead of over seven minutes.
– ‘It ain’t over til it’s over’ –
Vingegaard said he felt “euphoric” after surviving Saturday’s penultimate stage to virtually clinch his second successive title.
After crossing the line high in the Vosges, Vingegaard now only needs to ride into Paris to pull on the yellow jersey beneath the Arc de Triomphe as winner of the world’s greatest bike race again.
“It ain’t over til it’s over, so the feeling now is even more euphoric than when I took the big lead on stage 17,” said the Jumbo-Visma rider.
“The Tour de France is the greatest race in the world,” beamed the 26-year-old.
“There’s something so special about it and I can tell you I’ll be back again next year to try and win it again.”
Pogacar won the 20th stage but Denmark’s Vingegaard leads the Slovenian by 7min 29sec ahead of Sunday’s ceremonial ride to the finish line on the Champs Elysees.
“I don’t know what happened to me. I took on too much this year and after two weeks I started to look as white as this shirt,” said runner-up Pogacar, pointing to his best under-25 rider’s white jersey.
Runner-up to Pogacar in 2021, the softly-spoken Vingegaard was the only rider to challenge the Slovenian prodigy in the high mountains.
In 2022, he went one step higher and won the title at altitude, and it proved to be the case again in 2023.