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Battle for Yellow: Exciting Nailbiter? Beautiful Stalemate? Something Less?

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110th Tour de France 2023 - Stage 15 Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

I’ll be quick about this. You’ve undoubtedly seen 400 articles today trying to break down the Tour de France battle for overall supremacy between Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard, winners of the last three editions. It’s... VERY CLOSE! I can’t believe how close it is!! I think [insert] will win... BUUUUUTTTT I wouldn’t rule out [insert other]. Stuff like that.

How do we deal with close standings? We do several things. We rhapsodize about it. We compare it to the past. And we try to say what will happen next.

110th Tour de France 2023 - Stage 13 Photo by Bernard Papon - Pool/Getty Images

The Rhapsody: How Do You Feel Now?

Instead of just getting your predictions, I’m most interested in how you view the race. I’ll offer three choices, though there may be more, but anyway these are the three feelings I’ve had and I can’t settle on one.

It’s So Intense!! Empirically true, and as we watch them battle day by day, we wonder what little maneuver will end up producing the winning margin. Maybe it will be X! But what if it’s Y?? OMG have you thought about Z?!?! The problem with this way of thinking is that it’s a three week race, and like the 2000 US Presidential Election, sometimes an enormous event comes down to such a tiny margin that you can ascribe the “win” to a million different things. Which kind of ruins the fun.

It’s a Beautiful Stalemate. This is where I am now, for one reason:

How can you not just admire the competition and the two combatants? At this level of competitiveness sports usually turns somewhat ugly and petty, and it’s OK, because pro sports at least are ultimately supposed to be about winning. But it’s pretty cool when it turns into something more gallant and dignified. it’s a chance to just marvel at the greatness of both without worrying about who might be declared the winner by some arguably arbitrary factor.

I’m Just Over It Now. My guess is that there aren’t all that many people in this camp, but I wouldn’t blame people for feeling a bit deflated by the lack of attacks on stage 15, which was set to be arguably the Queen Stage, or Princess anyway if you prefer stage 17. It’s hard to argue that this Tour has been dull prior to stage 15. But the attacks have been less effective each time, and Pogačar and Vingegaard have been forced to get cagier and cagier about them. Maybe they’ve decided attacking is just futile now? Tbd. [Like I said, I don’t really think this, but it’s not insane.]


How do you view the Battle for Yellow?

This poll is closed

  • 39%
    It’s incredibly tense and exciting
    (19 votes)
  • 56%
    It’s more of a beautiful stalemate
    (27 votes)
  • 4%
    It’s a frustrating snore-march
    (2 votes)
48 votes total Vote Now
CYCLING-FRA-TDF2017 Photo credit should read LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP via Getty Images

Did You Know Remember?

This year’s Tour is soooo close! But it’s not like we haven’t headed into the second rest day with everything left to play for lately. Here is a short list of razor-thin margins after Stage 16:

2017: Chris Froome led Fabio Aru by 18 seconds! We were all pretty sure Aru was going to polish off Froome in the third week time trial, if I am remembering correctly. Final result: Froome beats Rigo Uran by 54” and everyone else by 2+ minutes.

2011: Andy Schleck led his brother Fränk by 53 seconds and Cadel Evans by 57... knowing all too well that Evans had an ace up his sleeve with the final week time trial. So really it was more like Evans led them both by at least a minute. Final Result: Evans by 1.34 over Andy.

2010: Alberto Contador led Andy Schleck by 8 seconds! This was Chain-Drop-Gate Year, and karma got its revenge on Contador by serving him a tainted steak. [Well, the western version of karma which is really just irony.] Final result: Bert by 39” over Andy, before getting his name crossed out.

2008 Tour de France -Stage Sixteen Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

2008: Fränk Schleck led Bernie Kohl by 7”, Evans by 8”, Carlos Sastre by 49” and Denis Menchov by 1.13. Once again, those numbers weren’t as awesome as they appeared for the non-TT guys, and it would take something special for anyone on this list to hold off Evans. Which happened. Final result: Sastre by 58” over Evans.

1989: LeMond led Fignon by 40 seconds, then 53, before blowing it all. Everyone knows this story. Final result: Lemond by 8” over Fignon.

So yeah, it’s pretty cool. And it also happens a lot. Someone could write a master’s thesis on the change to racing for bonus seconds, after a century of guys putting 5-10 minutes into each other, often changing roles on successive days. Maybe we will revert back to that type of racing — it’s not like the current crop aren’t trying. It’s not for lack of attacks. There just isn’t a big difference to be had. Or hasn’t been yet anyway.

81st Paris - Nice 2023 - Stage 3 Photo by Alex Broadway/Getty Images

What Now?

I have zero insight to offer. All I can say though is that if Vingegaard and Pogačar are equals on the climbs, then I guess that leaves the time trial. Irony alert!! This was the anti-TT Tour, but life has other plans.

What will be fascinating will mostly be to see how the rivalry turns. For all the greatness on display when Wout Van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel lock horns, the two are more like polite but very over-it rivals, executing their plans and keeping an eye on each other but after 12 years of this shit there isn’t much to say. Pogačar and Vingegaard — possibly because it’s the Tour — seem more like road movie characters, maybe Midnight Run (I know), where they end up being there for each other in the end. It’s not unusual for cycling, given the small space in which they find themselves battling for so, so many hours. Lance and Jan, Greg and Laurent, probably many other friendships have emerged from the struggle.

But during the struggle? With like 7 more years of this to go? That is kind of fascinating. And incredibly fun.