Jumbo-Visma, unable to break Tadej Pogačar’s steely grip on the lead of the 2022 Tour de France for five days, succeeded in cracking the two-time Tour champion on the first high-altitude mountain stage to the Col du Granon.
It is the first time any team has succeeded in breaking the young Slovenian’s dominance that took hold when he dramatically snatched victory from Primož Roglič at the 2020 Tour.
With 5km to go on the vicious 11.3-kilometre final climb, Jonas Vingegaard accelerated and opened up one bike length, two, then more and more, until it became clear that Pogačar had no response.
At first unable to follow his teammate Rafal Majka, Pogačar was then dropped by a string of GC riders as his Tour unravelled on the steep upper reaches of the climb.
He crossed the line in seventh place, shipping 2:51 to Vingegaard, the day’s winner and the new race leader. He even slipped to third overall, but vowed to keep fighting.
“It’s not over yet. I lose today three minutes, maybe tomorrow I gain three minutes. I’ll keep fighting until the end,” he said. “I was suffering until the end. It was not the best day. We’ll see tomorrow if I can do better.
“I want to race until the end – I want to give it everything and to have no regrets.”
The hints that Jumbo-Visma had a plan started from kilometre zero when Van Aert and Christophe Laporte went on the attack and made the breakaway. Then, on the Col du Télégraphe, Tiesj Benoot put in a surge with Vingegaard and made Pogačar respond.
On the descent, Roglič launched a move and they went clear with Geraint Thomas, before the Jumbo-Visma duo set about attacking Pogacar in turn on lower slopes of the the Col du Galibier. Each time, Pogačar had to expend energy to mark the moves.
Further up the Col du Galibier, Jumbo had the numerical advantage but Pogačar took matters into his own hands and dropped everyone but Vingegaard. After an initial regrouping on the descent, Van Aert was called back from the break to bring back the dropped Roglič group and give Jumbo-Visma five riders in the GC group.
It looked as if the team were poised for an assault on the race leadership but, one by one, Vingegaard’s teammates popped out the back as climb kicked up and it looked as if their plan was coming apart. When Vingegaard seized the moment and went on the attack, however, Pogačar could not respond.
He couldn’t follow Thomas when he went after Vingegaard, and couldn’t follow when Gaudu and Yates clawed their way back up and past. He finished the climb in damage-limitation mode, slipping to third overall, 2:22 behind Romain Bardet (DSM) as Vingegaard powered to the stage victory.
“On Galibier I still felt really good. I got a lot of attacking from Jumbo, they were really good today,” Pogačar said. “Then on the last climb, I don’t know, I didn’t have a good final day.
“They played it really smart,” he said of Jumbo-Visma. “For us it’s really hard to control who goes in the breakaway because we are not many guys anymore.”
UAE Team Emirates have lost George Bennett and Vegard Stake Laengen to COVID-19, while Rafał Majka was positive on Tuesday but deemed non-contagious.
“We tried, but in the end Van Aert and Laporte were in the front and played it tactically today they did a good job. That was it.”