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It is often said these days that you don’t win the Tour de France, you lose it. Nobody has told Tadej Pogačar that, as he seems to have gone out every day on the lookout for opportunities to eke out an advantage, not only morale boosting stage victories but as evidenced with his sprint to the line in Stage 9, he seems very aware that every second can count. However, this all in attacking display has only resulted in a 39-second lead over Vingegaard (albeit a much greater margin over the other contenders).
His eagerness to race has also meant his team have taken on a huge workload in these first nine days, and as many have pointed out, the ‘real’ Tour is yet to begin. Whether UAE are happy with their position on this first rest day only they can say, but both Pogačar and his team have had a tougher first week than other teams —although they are without doubt the most focused and committed squad.
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UAE seem to have a set agenda each day of who they need in the final. Only one thing matters and that is that Pogačar is protected. Jumbo-Visma for example are looking incredibly strong as a unit but have failed so far to make those numbers count in the hunt for yellow, and it also seems to me that they have one eye on the team prize already; it’s the only explanation why they have three or even four riders pushing all the way to the finish line each day. At Planche des Belles Filles they finished second, third, 10th and 21st.
Ineos are another team with multiple riders in the GC, but losing Dani Martinez was a blow. Although he was clearly not on the same level as Yates and Geraint Thomas, he would have been the rider most likely used in the Alps to attack from far out to put pressure on UAE.
These two teams face a huge decision. They spoke with bravado before the race of the need to play the numbers game against Pogačar, but a podium spot at the biggest race on earth is still a huge prize; will they really be willing to risk all at a shot at yellow, as that is what it will take!
I had highlighted the stage 9 finish as a prime candidate for these teams to attempt a coup. It was a perfect stage with a difficult climb to isolate Pogačar and a flatter final where teammates could take it in turns to attack, but it didn’t materialize. I think we will see a waiting game now as the riders, like us at home, will look to assess how Pogačar and UAE will perform in the high mountains. The contenders will ride conservatively and hope that their rivals show weakness. Everybody has a bad day during the Tour, it just depends if your bad day results in a time loss.
The 2022 Tour route is incredibly tough, the Pyrenean stages are intimidating and seem an awful long way away right now. Ordinarily the race will now settle into a pattern with less nervousness and fewer incidents while riders rely less on technique to be in good position as the strongest prevail. It was certainly a moment in the race that I would look forward to. As a GC rider this is the time that you feel like you are more in control of your destiny; if you have the legs you can get results, it’s simple.
I predict a very conservative race on stage 11 to Col de Granon as the high altitude and steep gradients will worry many. If you go into the red above 2000m it’s nearly impossible to recover. Every climber wants to win on Alpe d’Huez but its difficult to make a difference on the 21 hairpins as the speeds are relatively high so you get a good draft on the wheel. Stage 14 to Mende is the one I am most looking forward to as I think we can see some gaps. It will be super hot, the roads are impossibly sticky, and the tough gradients are a real challenge. The gaps will not be huge, but the racing will be aggressive, even if it is highly likely that the breakaway will contest the stage victory.
That brings me to the subject of heat tolerance and one of the big question marks that has been hanging over our current yellow jersey ever since he showed a glimmer of weakness on the slopes of Ventoux last summer. Jumbo-Visma seem to always be well adapted to the heat, something I remember well from an incredibly hot Tour de L’ain in 2020 when they blew the race apart, but I have no doubt that the UAE sports science team have been working to improve Pogačar’s tolerance. The heat not only impacts on-bike performance but also slows recovery after the stage.
It promises to be an intriguing week of racing ahead with the race possibly being won or lost on any one of the next six days; it’s what makes the race such compelling viewing right?