Did Tadej Pogačar drive his own downfall in stage 11 of the Tour de France?
Team boss points to over-aggressive racing and commitment to yellow rather than COVID or a hunger knock as cause of Wednesday's spectacular undoing.
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ALPE D’HUEZ, France (VN) – Was Tadej Pogačar master of his own Tour de France downfall in Wednesday’s unforgettable day in the Alps?
Some signs suggest so.
Team boss Mauro Gianetti pointed toward Pogačar’s aggressive swagger and the stress of defending yellow as the cause of the crack in his captain’s once-bulletproof armor on the stage 11 spectacle.
“Tadej was especially good on the Galibier,” Gianetti told media after the stage. “He used up a lot of energy, perhaps forced himself a little too much.”
Pogačar wasn’t content to follow wheels and mark moves when Jumbo-Visma squeezed him from all sides on the Télégraphe and Galibier climbs in the center of Wednesday’s carnage stage.
Pogačar responded in kind when stage-winner Jonas Vingegaard and archrival Primož Roglič unleashed a hail of haymakers his way in the four-rider Galibier group rather than wait for the inevitable coming together on the downhill.
The under-pressure and undermanned yellow jersey was boisterous when the bunch of favorites swelled out with Jumbo-Visma riders down the Lautaret and had the confidence to caper with cameras on the road to the Granon.
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Pogačar played patron when he could have played poker.
“He had to make decisions. He wanted to eliminate opponents,” Gianetti told reporters after Jumbo-Visma’s alpine assault. “That seemed to work, but a lot of riders came back in the descent.
“Although he still had Majka by his side on the final climb, the biggest problem was that Tadej himself had used too much energy on the Télégraphe and the Galibier. He paid for it in cash in the last five kilometers.”
The blessing and burden of the yellow jersey
Pogačar’s energy tank would have likely been running low since far before the dramatic day Wednesday.
Pogačar refused to relinquish the GC lead once he had it in his grasp after stage 6 into Longwy. The 23-year-old bypassed opportunities to pass the blessed burden of the yellow jersey to Rigoberto Urán and then Lennard Kämna in recent days and instead burned matches snatching seconds in any scenario possible.
Back-to-back Pyrenean summit finishes in the Tour’s third week didn’t give Pogačar comfort of regaining a gifted yellow jersey.
“With COVID and stuff like that, you never know when you [might] go home, so it’s not the best thing to just give away the jersey,” Pogačar said earlier this week. “You might never get it back.”
After losing rouleur Vagard Stake Laengen to COVID early in the Tour, Pogačar’s climbing train came off the rails when George Bennett also tested positive this week.
Questions over Rafal Majka’s health after testing positive with a low level of infection and uncertainties over Marc Hirschi’s form meant UAE Emirates was pushed in to overdrive to keep the maillot jaune in its team bus.
“Some stress has crept into the team in recent days. It wasn’t easy. Tadej has been wearing yellow for a number of days, which creates extra pressure. There are the obligatory press conferences, the late arrivals at the hotel,” Gianetti said.
“Add to that the positive COVID cases of Bennett and Laengen, the extra measures we had to take to isolate riders in the hotel, testing everyone every day.”
Gianetti confirmed Pogačar is fully fit and clear of COVID heading into stage 12 to the Alpe d’Huez.
“Tadej is in perfect shape. Otherwise he would not have been able to parry so many attacks on the Galibier …. He wasn’t bonking either. No, this is the credit of Vingegaard and his teammates.
“We knew they weren’t going to wait until closing week to attack us. The team wrote a great cycling page today. Spectacular, tactically well executed.”
Pogačar is worse for wear but perhaps wiser after his fall from grace on the Granon.
The two-time defending champion is already plotting his revenge – but perhaps he’ll be patient.