After sowing chaos over the northern side of the Col du Galibier on Wednesday, Jumbo-Visma found themselves in the business of imposing order when the Tour de France crossed back over the other side of the mountain pass on stage 12 to Alpe d’Huez.
A day earlier, Jumbo-Visma threw away the standard playbook and conjured up cycling’s version of the Super Bowl-winning ‘Philly Special’ as they grappled with the conundrum of how to put Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) into difficulty.
Having succeeded in that ambitious mission by putting Jonas Vingegaard into the yellow jersey, the team opted for a more conservative approach as they defended his lead on the road to Alpe d’Huez. The yellow-and-black jerseys massed at the front and imposed a brisk tempo, cycling’s equivalent of repeatedly running the football.
The tactic was blunt but effective. The pacemaking of Sepp Kuss, in particular, helped to pare down the yellow jersey group, with Romain Bardet (DSM) among those burnt off, and although Pogačar placed defiant accelerations near the top, Vingegaard appeared utterly untroubled. His supersonic display on the Col du Granon was followed by a strikingly assured defence of yellow here.
Vingegaard finished the stage alongside Pogačar, Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) and his teammate Kuss, 3:23 down on stage winner Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers). In the overall standings, the Dane remains 2:22 ahead of his chief rival Pogačar, with Thomas now third at 2:26.
“I think, in general, after yesterday, we wanted to try to have more of a straightforward day, but also look for opportunities if we sensed any weakness,” Kuss explained atop Alpe d’Huez. “On the last climb, we kept the status quo and just set a rhythm that was hard to attack from.”
When the yellow jersey group hit the lower slopes of Alpe d’Huez, Vingegaard had no fewer than four teammates for company, with Kuss, Steven Kruijswijk, Primož Roglič and green jersey Wout van Aert all taking turns to dissuade would-be attackers. In truth, considering the hardship Jumbo-Visma had imposed on the race 24 hours earlier, they probably didn’t need much dissuading.
“The team was riding super strong, the breakaway wasn’t an issue, and we just rode within ourselves,” Kuss said. “We just [rode] to make a bit of a hard pace, on the Croix de Fer, and we still had almost the whole team on Alpe d’Huez. We rode a steady pace we knew we could manage.”
While Kuss was in Vingegaard’s vicinity more or less to the finish, Kruijswijk had swung off after completing his stint further down the mountain. When he was flagged down by a group of reporters past the finish line, he was informed that his teammate had managed to withstand Pogačar’s almost inevitable volley in the finale.
“That’s good to hear, because you never know with Pogačar,” Kruijswijk said. “We’re really happy that Jonas was up there. We’re trying to defend the advantage he has in GC – and, where possible, extend.”
Jumbo-Visma were active at the front of the peloton on the initial ascent of the Galibier, though the idea of performing a rigorous, early test of Pogačar’s powers of recovery was perhaps a secondary consideration to the immediate task of policing the early breaks. After the move of the day had later taken shape, Jumbo-Visma quickly decided to grant it enough leeway to contest the stage honours.
“We talked about going for it, but halfway through the day, we were more concentrating on GC, and we decided not to make an extra effort to bring back the break,” said Kruijswijk.
That decision was perhaps a relief to Roglič, who confessed to reporters that he is still feeling the effects of his crash on the cobbles in the opening week of the race. That incident left Roglič with a dislocated shoulder that he needed to push back in by himself, and a sizeable deficit in the overall standings that nudged Vingegaard ahead of him in the internal hierarchy.
Roglič was selfless in his service during Jumbo-Visma’s grand offensive on the Galibier on stage 11, shipping another 11 minutes by day’s end. On Alpe d’Huez, he did what he could on Vingegaard’s behalf before relenting, and he now lies 21:37 down in 15th overall. This wasn’t the Tour he signed up for, but so it goes.
“Not really, I’m still fighting for survival,” Roglič said when asked if he was recovering from his earlier travails. “I’m trying to go day by day.”
It was a more positive afternoon for the team’s other galactico, Van Aert. The Belgian maintains a commanding lead in the points classification after his brace of stage wins in the opening week, but he doubled as one of Vingegaard’s most effective pacemakers on the lower slopes of Alpe d’Huez.
“We did again a super good team effort. It was probably more defensive than yesterday, but it was also a hard one,” said Van Aert. Though he rode wholeheartedly for Vingegaard here, he quietly highlighted that Jumbo-Visma had another objective on this Tour beyond carrying the yellow jersey to Paris. “Our priority is for sure to keep both jerseys in the team,” he said.
Van Aert should have some freedom to amass points en route to Saint-Étienne on Friday, but Vingegaard’s maillot jaune will surely be the team’s lone focus when the Tour enters the Massif Central on the rolling road to Mende a day later.
In 2020, Jumbo-Visma spent almost three weeks controlling the Tour like they did on Thursday only to lose the race to Pogačar at the last. Two years on, Vingegaard’s buffer is greater now than Roglič’s ever was on that Tour, but Pogačar’s accelerations on the Alpe were a warning all the same. He hasn’t gone away.
"We expect to be bombarded more in the Pyrenees,” Vingegaard’s teammate Tiesj Benoot admitted. “But this was also a very important day to have survived.” Nine more to go.
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