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The race for the yellow jersey of the Tour de France took the tiniest of twists Wednesday.
For a few dozen minutes, it looked like Pogačar’s vice-grip on yellow was weakening – until it wasn’t. Pogačar rallied, and with typical ruthlessness, won the four-up GC sprint. The race is still the reigning champ’s to lose, but the once-extinguished hopes of the chasing pack may have been reignited ahead of the Pyrénéan triple starting this weekend.
Here’s how the GC looks after a double trip to the top of the Ventoux:
- Tadej Pogačar, UAE-Team Emirates: 43:44:38
- Rigoberto Urán, EF Education-Nippo: +5:18
- Jonas Vingegaard, Jumbo-Visma: +5:32
- Richard Carapaz, Ineos Grenadiers: +5:33
- Ben O’Connor, AG2R-Citröen: +5:58
- Wilco Kelderman, Bora-Hansgrohe: +6:16
- Alexey Lutsenko, Astana-Premier Tech: +6:30
- Enric Mas, Movistar: +7:11
- Guillaume Martin, Cofidis: +9:29
- Pello Bilbao, Bahrain-Victorious: +10:28
The battle for the podium remains tight, with five riders still within range of a top-3 finish, and Pogačar’s rivals may smell blood in the water after his flash of trouble on the Ventoux.
So what does it all mean heading toward the Pyrénées this weekend?
Maybe Pogačar is fallible after all
Pogačar seemed invincible after his all-out assault in the Alps. But all of a sudden, a hint of humanity has returned to the Tour’s boy prince.
For the briefest of moments Wednesday, Pogačar looked set to lose time to Vingegaard as the young Dane blew him off the wheels at the top of the Ventoux.
But Pogačar’s moment of weakness looked just that – a moment. The Slovenian regrouped through the long descent into Malaucene and found the legs required to outsprint his nearest rivals and retain his huge GC lead.
— Tour de France™ (@LeTour) July 7, 2021
It’s unlikely that the alarm bells will be ringing too loud on the UAE Emirates bus tonight. Pogačar’s Ventoux crisis could just have likely have been a fueling problem as a serious loss of condition. And if anything, Pogačar finishes the day better off than he started it after Ineos Grenadiers put a hole in Ben O’Connor’s GC bid.
Plus, Pogačar now gets two flat stages and one hilly stage before the next onslaught of mountains. We’ve definitely seen top GC riders crumble in the final week of a grand tour, and whether Pogačar’s slowdown atop Ventoux was a sign of a bigger problem is a story that will show itself next week when the race goes deep into the Pyrenees.
UAE Emirates will also be seeking a lot of solace in the fact that its team stood defiant to the daylong squeeze by Ineos Grenadiers through Provence, and that Pogačar has a full three days to recover in the coming trio of sprinter stages.
Pogačar still has the jersey sitting squarely on his shoulders.
But his rivals may fancy their chances at trying it for size.
Carapaz can’t deliver on Ineos Grenadiers’ control
Ineos Grenadiers barked but didn’t bite Wednesday.
The team took control of the racing Wednesday, rolling out a full-blown mountain train reminiscent of the Chris Froome era. However, unlike back in the days of Team Sky days, the team failed to make any real impact on the race.
While the Ineos assault distanced podium threats Ben O’Connor, Guillaume Martin and Enric Mas, it failed to trouble everyone that really mattered. Richard Carapaz was left boxing with Pogačar, Vingegaard and Rigoberto Urán in the final, and it came out all-square in the foursome’s kick for the line.
— INEOS Grenadiers (@INEOSGrenadiers) July 7, 2021
Like in the Alps this weekend, Carapaz and Ineos Grenadiers tried to disrupt Pogačar’s dominance Wednesday but didn’t have the dynamite to finish it off. A pre-Tour talking point has been that Ineos Grenadiers has the strongest team but not the strongest rider in the race, and every successive stage drives that truth home.
Did Ineos Grenadiers confuse its tactics on the Ventoux? It never pulled hard enough to control the break and win the stage outright, and the day-long controlling left Carapaz and Co. without the firepower to distance Pogačar in the decisive top-half of the Ventoux.
Whatever Ineos Grenadiers was up to Wednesday, it’s a sign that it doesn’t want to go down without a fight. Expect to see the Ineos mountain train driving hard through the Pyrénées later this week.
Vingegaard emerges as genuine threat
Vingegaard won the mental battle, but didn’t win the time he may have hoped for Wednesday.
Vingegaard’s brave attack at the top of the Ventoux exposed Pogačar for the first time in the race, and for the best part of 15km, the young Dane looked to be putting a small dent into Pogačar’s huge lead.
The attack ended up being for zero net gain, but Vingegaard’s move has marked him out as a genuine GC threat.
— Tour de France™ (@LeTour) July 7, 2021
With Vingegaard now sitting in third overall after proving himself to be one of the best climbers in the race, Jumbo-Visma may be reassessing its decision to split its ambitions between stage wins and a GC bid.
Should Jumbo Visma have supported Vingegaard soon as Primož Roglič began to crumble? Hindsight is a fine thing. But now that Wout van Aert has conquered the Ventoux, Jumbo-Visma is likely to go all-in with its unlikely new GC hope.
Urán and Kelderman remain in range, O’Connor starts to slide
Guess what? Mr “Steady Eddie” Rigoberto Urán is up to second place.
The Colombian veteran assuredly marked the wheels through the Ventoux to continue his solid but unspectacular climb onto the podium. With so many grand tours in his palmarès and the backing of a strong EF Education-Nippo team, it’s hard to see Urán fail to make his second trip to the Tour’s final podium in Paris.
Vingegaard, Carapaz, O’Connor and Wilco Kelderman are those most likely to challenge Urán for a slot on the podium, with the five separated by just 58 seconds.
Kelderman couldn’t match the hardest of attacks on the Ventoux, but limited his losses to just 18 seconds on the GC group to leave him sitting sixth overall. Like Urán, Kelderman has the team and experience to consolidate, if not improve, his GC slot in the back-half of the race.
— BORA – hansgrohe (@BORAhansgrohe) July 7, 2021
And Ben O’Connor? The Aussie’s surprise rise to the top of the GC didn’t last too long.
O’Connor lost nearly four minutes to the classification favorites Wednesday, with only his strong position at the start of the stage leaving him in the battle for the podium heading into stage 12. O’Connor is in the fight – for now – but he may not be there after the Pyrénées.