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Van Aert made it into a three-man breakaway, along with Quinn Simmons and Jakob Fuglsang, that went clear after over 80 kilometers of full-gas racing.
While White expected Van Aert to have a go, he and many others were caught off guard by just how much he committed to the move, calling it an “all or nothing” attack that left the Belgian with nothing. Van Aert was reeled in with just over 10 kilometers to go and ultimately lost 7:28 on the front group, which was led home by Tadej Pogačar.
“Clearly, he was very aggressive from the start because Jumbo’s plan here is not to ride to save energy for the backend of this race,” White told VeloNews. “The thing that is a little bit confusing is how aggressive he rode. It was obviously an all-or-nothing attack. It was going to be pretty hard to pull off against the peloton. It was all or nothing and he ended up with nothing. It was a brave ride, and it showed a lot of panache but today it’s cost him the yellow jersey and granted it to Pogačar.”
Stage 6 of the Tour de France from Binche to Longwy was the longest of the race at nearly 220 kilometers. After a brutal day on the cobbles, many wanted to have a slightly easier day in the bunch but the desire to get into breakaway resulted in a fast and furious start to the day.
The riders completed almost half the stage distance in the opening two hours of racing and the final average speed of race was over 49kph. BikeExchange-Jayco was among those trying to get into the moves but changed tact when Van Aert and co. went up the road.
“We had two options, one to put either Nick Schultz or Michael into a big break with one of our big guys,” White said. “Or, if it did come down to a sprint, which we didn’t really expect, it was to set Michael up for the best position possible. A lot of people didn’t and nobody wanted to ride on the longest stage of the Tour de France. It’s why we knew it would be aggressive, but as aggressive as it was, no. That was crazy, in two hours of racing we did 100 kilometers.
“When that move went with Van Aert and Fuglsang, it was perfect because they were never going to give Fuglsang two minutes, and they weren’t going to give Van Aert another chance. As it got closer, you could see the tactics of the other teams to leave [Van Aert] out there to fry as long as possible and then bring him in hard on the last climb and try to drop him in the final, which they were able to do.”
Matthews was one of the few fastmen in the pack that was able to hold the wheels of the climbers going up the final ascent. He tried to bring back Pogačar after the Slovenian had attacked inside the final 400 meters, but ran out of steam before the line and had to settle for second place.
White said that the team got its positioning wrong in the finale and that Matthews could have beaten Pogačar if he’d been close to his wheel.
“If he was on the wheel. The only mistake we made was that Michael got boxed off the wheel in the last 500,” White said. “If he had been on the wheel of Pogačar when he accelerated, then I think there was a chance he could have won the stage today but you can’t give the world’s best bike rider three or four bike lengths and expect to reel him in over that short of a period. Michael had a great ride and there was great commitment from our boys. Second place is nothing to sneeze at.
“There’s no lack of confidence here. We’ve got a stage win, a second place, and that’s a chance for Michael but there’s going to be plenty more coming up.”