photo credits @ ASO
On a day where Tadej Pogacar was put under pressure and Matej Mohoric soloed to glory in Le Creusot, it was another Slovenian, Primoz Roglic, who saw his fading Tour hopes slip away. Felix Lowe on how the story of an enthralling longest stage of the race played out through the contrasting fortunes of its Slovenian protagonists.
In the longest stage in the Tour in 21 years, Mohoric found himself in a stellar 29-man move that also included the yellow jersey, the green jersey, a former Tour winner, but not, crucially, any other Slovenians.
As the gap grew and grew, Pogacar and his shaky UAE Team Emirates squad started to panic. With the advantage soon exceeding six minutes, Pogacar started burning matches before the hills of the stage, let alone the mountains of the next two stages.
Roglic and his walking-wounded Jumbo-Visma team, however, didn’t have to do a thing. They had Wout van Aert and Mike Teunissen up the road – the Belgian’s presence one of the fascinating subplots of the day, sticking as he did to the wheel of his big rival Mathieu van der Poel, the man in yellow.
If Van der Poel expected to lose the yellow jersey on Wednesday’s time trial, on Friday he did his utmost best to ensure that he would at least keep it until the end of the first Alpine stage – proving attack as the best form of defense.
Just 30 seconds down on Van der Poel in the standings, Van Aert no doubt eyed the succession of hills towards the end of the 249km stage in central France as a second chance – after missing out in the TT – of taking a career-first yellow.
Their presence in the break – along with Denmark’s Kasper Asgreen and Milan-Sanremo winner Jasper Stuyven – gave the stage something of a classics feel to it: apt given its classics-style length and those series of climbs peppering the final third.
But it was perhaps in focusing too much on a yellow for Van Aert that Jumbo-Visma took their eye off the ball and scored an own goal. As Mohoric rode clear on the first climb, the narrative in the chasing peloton was how much damage this stage was doing to Pogacar’s UAE team forced into leading the chase. But it was Jumbo-Visma who looked the most vulnerable.
Roglic, still coming back from his nasty fall in Stage 3, soon found himself isolated on the double-digit ramp of the stage’s focal point, the penultimate climb of the Signal d’Uchon.
Jumbo-Visma couldn’t afford to drop Jonas Vingegaard back – and because the Danish debutant is still high on GC, they couldn’t afford to let him ride on without Steven Kruijswijk. And so with Robert Gesink back home after his withdrawal and both Tony Martin and Sepp Kuss already distanced, Roglic was forced to ride the final 20km on his own.
Jumbo-Visma team director Merijn Zeeman admitted afterwards that Roglic was still in a lot of pain after his crash in Stage 3. “He cannot sit normally on the saddle because he also hit his butt on the ground. He’s in a difficult situation. It’s just a complete lack of energy to follow. Today that was the case.”
Despite Roglic now trailing Van der Poel by 9’11” in the general classification, Zeeman stressed that the team were “definitely not worried”.
Zeeman, however, admitted that the team will now have to reassess Roglic’s tactics going forward. “If he wants to have a chance in this race he needs somehow to recover and that’s something we’ll discuss after the stage with him.”
Asked if Roglic would abandon the race, he said: “Too early to say. We need to discuss it with him first.”
For Pogacar, it was far from the nightmare endured by the rider whose yellow jersey dream he ended 10 months ago on La Planche des Belles Filles. Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) has been let back into the GC battle, but the Italian – who has his eyes on the Olympic Games – was never expected to make it to Paris, anyway.
Van der Poel and Van Aert – now both over three minutes clear of the man in white – are hardly going to be challengers for yellow once the high mountains come along.
But the Tour’s first real taste of climbing did highlight just how weak Pogacar’s UAE team is – especially with Brandon McNulty and Marc Hirschi both battling back from the kind of injuries that are holding back Roglic. If Pogacar successfully defends his Tour crown, he’s going to have to do it himself.
Entering the stage in 10th place at 1’48” and 1’40” down on compatriot Pogacar after limiting his losses in the TT, Roglic is now in 33rd place after shipping four minutes to the defending champion. Over nine minutes had elapsed after Mohoric’s emotional win before Roglic crossed the line.
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