Dan Martin’s Tour de France analysis: So was this the knockout blow?

'There's a big question over how Vingegaard will cope now that he has a big target on his back,' says Dan Martin in his exclusive column for VeloNews.

Photo: MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images

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I’m not sure anybody saw that coming at the Tour de France, especially myself who openly predicted a sedate race with a view to the extreme difficulties that lie ahead. But, on reflection, perhaps we should have expected Jumbo-Visma to unleash chaos on the race.

The squad had clearly highlighted today as being a key weakness in the armory of Tadej Pogačar’s title defense. The one stage he showed weakness on last year was on the upper slopes of Ventoux in the only extreme heat that touched the race at one of the highest altitudes that the race reached.

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Jumbo-Visma clearly have their hot weather protocol down to a t as they seem to race well as a team when the mercury rises, the opposite for Pogačar. It wasn’t just the UAE rider who suffered as Jonas Vingegaard took considerable time out of the whole peloton, but importantly his teammate Primož Roglič — meaning the team is now 100 percent focused on one leader.

So was this the knockout blow? As long as Pogačar is healthy, history tells us he is far from out of this. The fashion in which he hemorrhaged time in the last 4km points to a hunger flat or even dehydration; he just seemed to be empty, which is understandable after being so distracted by Jumbo’s incessant attacking on the Galibier.

If this was the case, he might have problems tomorrow at Alpe d’Huez as it makes it much harder to recover when you have finished in a nutritional debt. But he will take solace from knowing what went wrong. The altitude probably also played a part; when you are suffering the lack of oxygen stops you in your tracks above 2,000 meters.

What happens next? We are all potentially making a mistake in thinking this is a two horse race.

Geraint Thomas has been especially impressive along with Romain Bardet, while Nairo Quintana seems to be riding into the race nicely. But, I don’t see anybody being able to take back the time on Vingegaard other than Pogačar. The steep gradients of Col du Granon were much better suited to the featherweight Dane, but the remaining mountain top finishes, starting with Alpe d’Huez on stage 12 but also at Peyragudes and Hautacam, are right in Pogačar’s sweet spot of power climbs.

Wednesday’s events mean that the race has become a lot more simple for everybody, but especially the somewhat weakened UAE Team Emirates as Jumbo Visma will look to take control of the race, hoping to give Vingegaard an armchair ride to the final climb each day where he can potentially eek out or even just maintain his healthy advantage.

With Roglič now out of the GC battle they will be united, but also limited in their tactical options. We cannot forget that before last year, the Dane was a relative unknown.

Vingegaard has no experience leading a big race, never mind the behemoth that is the Tour de France. He now has podium, media, and anti-doping commitments after every stage instead of simply returning to the sanctuary of the team bus to recover each day, and it’s impossible to quantify the extra stress and inevitable mental toll and fatigue that this accounts for.

For me it’s a big question mark — how he will cope now that he has a big target on his back. He clearly has the strongest team packed with experience to guide him through the race, but everybody has a bad day at the Tour; it just depends how he copes when the hammer hits him!

From now on the race will certainly open up to more stage victories from breakaways starting with stage 12 as the gaps on GC are huge. Enric Mas in 10th is now at 9:30.

To put that into perspective, the final top 10 in Paris in 2019 was only covered by 7:30. We are only now at the half way point. This means that almost anybody can now infiltrate the break, and they are sure to try. The start up the Lauteret and onto the Galibier on stage 12 promises to be a truly epic battle that will probably result in a breakaway of 30 or more riders — bad news for the sprinters. It can look somewhat chaotic while watching these starts, but Jumbo will just ride their tempo and effectively let anybody get away who wants to, as long as they are not in that top 10, of course.

There will surely be some outside GC guys trying to jump in there to take back time. They defended yellow imperiously for 10 stages in 2020 and then lost at the final to the same guy hunting them down now. Will they have learned from the experience to finally get the jersey to Paris? There’s a long way to go.

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