All-time cycling great Eddy Merckx has delivered a scathing review of Jumbo-Visma's strategy in the Tour de France, arguing that, if Primož Roglič lost the race, in large part the team have only themselves to blame.
Speaking to L’Equipe, Merckx told the French newspaper that Jumbo-Visma had played with fire by allowing Tadej Pogačar to remain so close to the top of the overall ranking so late into the race, enabling the young Slovenian to pounce in the final time trial.
Pogačar was 57 seconds behind Roglič prior to Saturday’s dramatic time trial, which saw Roglič ousted from yellow after leading for nearly two weeks.
Asked by L’Equipe if he was surprised at the way things played out in the Vosges barely 24 hours before the race reaches Paris, Merckx replied: "Not at all. Ask my wife and the people I’m close to, I’ve been saying for days that Roglič’s 50 seconds were not enough to be certain of winning.
"I could see Pogačar coming a mile off, and I had said the only solution he had was to wait for the TT, because time was playing into his hands.
"He’s only 21, he’s a lot fresher than Roglič. We could see that over the last few days. He knew he didn’t need to attack, because Jumbo were stronger. He just had to fly under the radar a little before the time trial."
Warming to his point, Merckx argued that Jumbo-Visma had "above all, raced stupidly. For the last three weeks, they’ve been all out, not letting a thing happen, but they just forgot this young lad at 50 seconds [57 seconds - Ed.] What a mistake to make!
"They’ve been hoist by their own petard, they went looking for this defeat. It was clear that Pogačar wasn’t going to attack them, he couldn’t drop them in the mountains. But they should have tried to drop him a lot earlier, so they could get enough of a gap on him. It’s a good lesson in cycling."
Merckx argued to L’Equipe that Jumbo-Visma had "maybe forgotten the images of the 2019 Vuelta" – where Pogačar placed third and won three stages – saying that riders did not pull off feats like that at 20 without being massively talented.
As for whether Pogačar formed part of a new generation of racers alongside racers like Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quick Step) or Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), Merckx was also somewhat dismissive.
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves with Remco, he hasn’t shown anything so far. He talks a lot but I'm waiting to see the rest. I'm not sure if Pogačar's victory is good news for him – that’s placing the bar pretty high.
"Bernal wasn’t so good this year, we’d have to see what he’s like when he's back in the thick of the action to see if he’s able to be Pogačar's rival in the years to come."
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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