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LOUDERVIELLE, France (VN) – Jumbo-Visma bent but didn’t break at the Tour de France on Wednesday.
UAE Team Emirates roared hot out of the blocks deep into stage 17 to Peyragues to isolate Jonas Vingegaard and squeeze pressure on Jumbo-Visma to its tightest in the race so far.
“They made the race incredibly hard today. If you see the time gaps in the GC it’s kind of crazy,” team director Grischa Niermann told reporters at the finish.
UAE Emirates blew the GC open for Tadej Pogačar with Wednesday’s Pyrénéan onslaught.
Geraint Thomas lost more than two minutes and the podium-chasing pack lost far more. Jumbo-Visma super-climber Sepp Kuss was dropped, but there was one yellow-jerseyed rider that stuck resolute.
“Let’s say we survived,” Niermann said. “Jonas was good and was never in trouble. So that’s a very good sign I would say.”
‘It was clear Pogačar didn’t have the legs’
Pogačar rode third wheel in a UAE pain train that inflicted the type of torment visited on them by Jumbo-Visma in days before.
Mikkel Bjerg did the initial damage until the yellow jersey was left isolated and bracing against Pogačar and his massive-motored teammate Brandon McNulty in the cat.1 crawl to Peyragudes.
“It was kind of stressful today, McNulty and Bjerg were super strong,” Niermann said. “When the number three on GC [i.e., Thomas – ed] is dropped you can’t expect to have a domestique with you — so then it’s up to your leader.”
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Pogačar and Vingegaard came to the line locked to each other’s wheels. Like so many stages before, the Dane made a defiant shadow to the surging Slovenian.
Pogačar scored the stage and four seconds on GC.
Still at 2:18 back, it made for meager pickings from an energy-zapping day for a four-rider UAE-Emirates team decimated by COVID and injuries.
“UAE did a great job today, especially McNulty there for the last few climbs. He had a really strong pace,” Kuss said. “But for us it was good that Jonas was still right with Pogačar to the end of the last sprint.”
Jumbo-Visma sees itself inching closer to the top of the Paris podium with every passing day.
Vingegaard now “only” has to navigate another multi-mountain test through the Pyrénées before limiting his losses in the 40km time trial set for Sunday.
“It was clear that Pogačar didn’t have the legs to go any faster than what McNulty did, and that pace was good for Jonas,” Niermann said.
“We were hoping we would get the stage and the bonus seconds, but Pogačar is a specialist in that and he had to go incredibly deep to take it – and you could see that at the finish.”
Diesel climbs good for Danish defense
Pogačar and UAE Emirates rattled Jumbo-Visma’s cage Wednesday.
Kuss conceded he was caught out by a change of rhythm after locking down the race to Foix on Tuesday, and Wout van Aert went AWOL some 30km from the finish.
“Tomorrow is a different animal,” Kuss said. “If it takes until the first climb for the break to go then it’ll be pretty crazy. But it should a bit less explosive than today with the longer climbs.”
The third of the Tour’s Pyrénean triptych Thursday brings big-diesel HC climbs and a final haul to Hautacam that Jumbo-Visma is confident it can control.
“I think today is the day that suited Jonas less if you compare it to a day like tomorrow,” Kuss said Wednesday.
Jumbo-Visma is one day closer to Paris and in control of the Tour de France. But as Primož Roglič found out in 2020, Pogačar can pounce at any moment.
“In the third week, you can do damage on any climb,” Kuss warned.