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Tour de France update: Duel for the ages set for grandstand finish

If the opening week of the Tour de France was thrilling then week two was even better – and given what has unfolded so far, week three promises to be absolutely unmissable.

It had been billed before a pedal had been turned as a clash of the titans, a showdown between fierce rivals Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogacar, and the big two have not disappointed.

Day after day, stage after stage, climb after sapping climb, the two giants of the Tour have been locked in combat on the roads of northern Spain and France and now, with just five meaningful days of racing to come, we still do not know who will be standing atop the podium wearing the yellow jersey in Paris on Sunday evening.

Who can steal a march in Tour thriller?

WhatTour de France 2023
WhereSpain and France
WhenSaturday 1st July - Sunday 23rd July
How to watchEurosport & ITV
OddsJonas Vingegaard 4/5, Tadej Pogacar 21/20, Adam Yates 40/1, Carlos Rodriguez 50/1

Fifteen stages down, six to go, and the betting tells you all you need to know. It's 4/5 defending champion Jonas Vingegaard, 21/20 Tadej Pogacar and 40/1 bar.

For race organisers, advertisers, fans, Le Tour 2023 really couldn't have worked out any better with memories for those of a certain age flooding back of the 1989 Tour when Greg Lemond beat Laurent Fignon by eight seconds in the closest finish in living memory. 

Back then, of course, the yellow jersey was decided on a final-day time trial up the Champs Elysees. This time it will be decided before the now processional last day rumble into the French capital and it really is on a knife-edge.

Philipsen leaving sprint rivals green with envy

There are other issues to be resolved, other jerseys to be decided, although the green jersey won't be taken off the back of Jasper Philipsen. 

This year's Tour has been notable for the lack of out-and-out flat stages. There have been just five bunch sprint finishes and probably just two more to come, into Poligny on Friday and Paris on Sunday. 

Of the five sprints so far, Philipsen has won four and has an astonishing 144-point lead over Mads Pedersen going into the final week's racing. 

He's 1/6 to win the points classification and just has to stay on his bike to do so, though at 1/4 to win five-plus stages, it's anticipated his winning streak isn't over yet.

Can Ciccone knock spots off polka-dot contenders?

The battle for the King of the Mountains, in contrast, is wide open with just 11 points separating the top five.

Italy's Giulio Ciccone of the Lidl-Trek team leads the way on 58 points and is 2/1 to still be donning the polka dot jersey on Sunday night.

Ef Education's Neilsen Powless is second, also on 58 points, and is 14/1. Then it's the big guns, Vingegaard on 54 and Pogacar on 48, who are 2/1 and 9/4 respectively to be crowned King of the Mountains.

There are still two big days of climbing to come with 45 points up for grabs on Wednesday's stage from Saint-Gervais to Courchevel with another 37 on the penultimate day in the Vosges.

Ciccone and Powless will likely make moves early on both days with the GC contenders having bigger fish to fry, though the big-scoring bigger climbs are at the back end on both days when Pogacar and Vingegaard and their teams will almost certainly be dictating terms.

Time trial may not have decisive impact

'He's a tough man to drop', said Pogacar of Vingegaard after failing to shake off the Dane during Saturday's gripping run into Morzine.

You get a sense the two men are so evenly-matched that taking lumps of time out of each other just isn't going to happen.

The next stage – the one and only time trial of this year's Tour, a 22.4km dash from Passy to Combloux – should at least see a swing, one way or the other.

There's no wheel-hanging in a time trial, the only problem being that the stage is neither tough enough nor long enough for one or other to gain a sizeable edge. 

The prices reflect that nicely with 11/8 about Vingegaard and 11/8 Pogacar too.

The real test, where the Tour may well be decided, will come 24 hours later, up to Courchevel and the brutal 30km ascent up the Col de la Loze. 

There is over 70 kilometres of climbing on Wednesday when traps will be laid and moves made – though whether any will prove decisive remains to be seen.

One thing is for sure, and as we said earlier, it will be unmissable.

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