Is the Tour de France already played? Jonas Vingaard took more than a minute from his great rival Tadej Pogacar on Wednesday’s first mountain stage in Laruns where Australian Jai Hindley scored twice. Returning to his bus, Pogacar displayed a purple and abnormally closed face, he who usually laughs in all circumstances, even last year after his failure at the Granon where Vingegaard had dethroned him. “Yes, I took a big hit on the head”, admitted the Slovenian who definitely had a sale day since his girlfriend, the runner Urska Zigart, fell in the women’s Giro and “may be suffering from a hustle”. “It’s more important than the seconds I was able to lose today,” said “Pogi”, looking defeated.
Pogacar in trouble
Nevertheless, we had rarely seen him so struggling as Wednesday on the slopes of Marie Blanque. Unhooked from the first giclette of his Danish rival, he dragged his misery to the top of the pass, before falling downhill to Laruns with the American Sepp Kuss, the sherpa from Vingaard, hanging from his wheel like a leech.
In the end, the winner of 2020 and 2021 crossed the line more than a minute behind Vingaard. In general, he already has 53 seconds of disbursements on the title holder, second behind Jai Hindley, stage winner and new yellow jersey.
“I admit that I myself am surprised,” said Vinegaard, surprised that Pogacar failed to follow him. Especially since the Dane had judged that this stage, difficult but not insurmountable, did not really suit him, he who prefers to play the wear and tear in the very long passes. “But on the last climb, I felt like I had really good legs. I told Sepp (Kuss) to go up front, and I attacked,” he explained. “Jonas was really strong to make such a difference,” Sepp Kuss told AFP, from a front row seat to see the damage.
Vingegaard’s coup validated the strategy of Jumbo-Visma, which placed three riders in the morning royal breakaway in which Jai Hindley had managed to slip. The plan went perfectly and it came at a good time for the Dutch team after a turbulent start to the Tour, marked by Wout Van Aert’s outbursts and his alleged rivalry with Vingaard.
“A lot of people have spoken. But today we showed the real spirit that drives the team. Wout had no chance of winning this stage and he gave his all for Jonas. I think the answer is clear,” insisted sporting director Merijn Zeeman. For UAE, on the other hand, it is a day to forget since Adam Yates, “the Sepp Kuss of Pogacar”, in addition to having given up his yellow jersey, was not useful for his leader in Marie Blanque.
Pogacar bets on the third week
This is worrying for the rest which goes through a second stage on Thursday in the Pyrenees, with the Tourmalet in particular on the program. “We don’t lose hope, commented UAE manager Mauro Gianetti. The goal is always to win the Tour. Vingegaard was very strong today but Tadej can improve. There are two and a half weeks left. He gotta stay positive.”
For lack of anything better, Pogacar puts on a revamp over the Tour, after having seen his preparation disrupted by a fracture in the left wrist during Liège-Bastogne-Liège on April 23. “I resumed training a little late this year so I should feel good in the last week normally. We will continue to fight, all is not lost,” he said. In the meantime, we will also have to be wary of Jai Hindley.
The left-hander from Perth, who is only discovering the Tour, is a rider little known to the general public. But he is a class climber who is not afraid of the distance of three weeks, as he proved when he won the Giro last year. After consolidating his status as a contender for the podium – he is almost two minutes ahead of riders like Frenchman David Gaudu – he could even see further. “We take it very seriously”, a promise Zeeman.