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After the first of a trilogy of Pyrenean stages in this final week of the Tour de France, the situation that was established in the Alps continues.
An aggressive and increasingly unpredictable Pogačar has tried but again failed to take back any time on the impressive Vingegaard. The surprise attack on the Port de Lers seemed to catch the Jumbo Visma rider out for a handful of seconds, but he showed great strength and composure to close the gap. It raised his awareness to the fact that Pogačar was looking for an opportunity and so the Dane was probably more ready than even we were as spectators when the Slovenian launched at the top of the descent. In my opinion these were simply probing attacks to determine how Vingegaard was feeling.
The final rest day in the Tour de France is always a slightly nervous moment for a GC rider as you don’t know how your body will react to the break in racing, and with the oppressive heat the race has been held under this year, getting your rest day activity wrong can lead to your body not reacting once the real racing begins. It’s a horrible feeling as you know your condition is good but you are helpless. The body simple says ‘no’, which I believe is what led to Romain Bardet’s bad day and considerable time loss.
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There were no such issues for Vingegaard though, and he actually looked the more comfortable of the two GC favourites during the exchanges. Even the post-race interviews took on a different complexion to other days with Pogačar seeming strangely deflated that he hadn’t managed to inflict any damage. But I believe that, for the first time this Tour, Tadej kept his cards close to his chest.
With Wout van Aert in the breakaway there was no reason to attack because with a headwind run down to the finish, the green jersey would have been capable of limiting or cancelling out any advantage that Pogačar was able to take on the climb. The next stages are much more accessible to attacking racing but the key could be UAE stopping Jumbo Visma having satellite riders in the breakaway.
With only Sepp Kuss remaining as mountain backup and defense, Vingegaard could find himself quickly isolated which is a problem not just for setting a tempo but also for nutritional replenishment. When was the last time that we saw a yellow jersey descending to the rear of the group to take on bottles — something that if the heat continues, could become a real problem, although I’m sure Jumbo Visma have a plan in place to have huge numbers of staff road side.
The roads the next two days are much more accessible to attacking racing as the climbs are short, narrow, and steep with a road surface that both sucks the speed from your tyres and reflects an enormous amount of heat. The valleys are short and generally have technical roads meaning it’s difficult to organize any chase.
The biggest question mark for me is whether Ineos will take advantage of their enviable position of having a full quota of personnel still at their disposal. We have yet to see them be aggressive in any way so they surely must have a plan and could be the key to isolating Vingegaard. Or will they be content to simply secure another podium finish for Geraint Thomas?
Wednesday’s stage is a never before seen profile with the demanding Col de Val Louron-Azet and its very tricky descent, no doubt containing sections of tar that have melted in the heat the past days, and a new approach to the Peyragudes finish which seems to be becoming a regular haunt for the Tour.
The forecast is predicting a heavy shower overnight that could see notably cooler temperatures. This could potentially favor Pogačar but one thing is clear: he will be looking to at least cause a dent in the morale of Vingegaard but will be hoping to take back some time as he is certainly running out of stages.