By now, Jumbo-Visma are winning almost by accident. On stage 19 of the Tour de France, the team's sole objective was to ferry overall leader Jonas Vingegaard safely to the finish, with Wout van Aert himself sacrificing his chances to serve as the helmsman on the sinuous finale in Cahors.
Almost as an afterthought, the team gave Christophe Laporte the freedom the contest the finish and he decided he might as well win. His searing effort on the drag up Boulevard Gambetta carried him to stage victory, the first by a French rider on this Tour.
"This was not the plan, it was the rider who followed his instinct," directeur sportif Merijn Zeeman admitted afterwards. "Today was just about protecting Jonas. Of course, we knew the parcours very well, and it was tricky with narrow roads, so we wanted to hit the front. You could see the sprinters' teams have had to work really hard already and there was a lack of control and the break almost made it. But Christophe had very good legs and he used his opportunity and his instinct."
Laporte has always had a decent turn of pace in an uphill sprint and an aptitude for short but sustained efforts, and during his lengthy tenure at Cofidis, those talents carried him to wins at races like Étoile de Bessèges and the Tour of Poitou-Charentes. Since joining switching teams last winter, those gifts have been amplified considerably and the 29-year-old's victories are now taking place in altogether vaster auditoriums.
After landing his first WorldTour victory when he led a Jumbo-Visma one-two-three on the opening day of Paris-Nice, Laporte notched up the biggest win of his career in Cahors on Friday. As the peloton struggled to pull back a late trio of escapees on the drag to the line, Laporte channelled Beppe Saronni at Goodwood by unleashing an astonishing fucilata with 500m remaining. After catching the escapees, Laporte proceeded to blow right by them, freewheeling across the line a second clear of Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix).
"The briefing was clear, the aim was to protect Jonas until 3km to go because it was a very nervous stage," Laporte said. "We rode at the front, as we needed to do, and it was decided that we could go for the sprint after 3km to go, provided Jonas was safe and sound. With 100km to go, Wout told me he'd look after Jonas until then, so I had carte blanche to go for it in the finale."
Laporte credits move to Jumbo
Earlier in this Tour, L'Équipe carried an interview with Zeeman in which he pushed back against the aspersions cast on Jumbo-Visma's supremacy by claiming that French teams did not "work with the same professionalism" as his squad. The statement carried unfortunate echoes of those made by similarly dominant teams of yesteryear, but in Cahors on Friday, Laporte credited Jumbo-Visma's modus operandi with the progress he has made this season.
"The move to Jumbo 100% contributed to this victory. A lot of work has gone into this," Laporte said. "In the last two months before the Tour de France, I spent six weeks at altitude camps, a week at the Dauphiné and just a few days at home. So that was enormous, and a lot of things have changed since I joined this team in terms of the preparation, nutrition and material. All the riders are excellent riders, and among the world elite, and riding with them gives you a lot of confidence. I have to thank them, because I wouldn't have won here without them.
Laporte's victory was Jumbo-Visma's second in as many days after Vingegaard's solo triumph at Hautacam, and it brings their running tally for this Tour to five stage wins. With Van Aert a firm contender to win both Saturday's time trial and Sunday's finale on the Champs-Élysées, they may yet snare a third of the stages on offer at this Tour.
"I think it's possible," Laporte said. "We already have five wins, and we're very happy with that, but Wout is very motivated for tomorrow and Jonas can do a good time trial. And Wout already won on the Champs-Élysées last year, so he has a chance there. But what we've done up to now is already enormous."
Jumbo-Visma have also, of course, already effectively secured three of the four jerseys at this Tour. Vingegaard, the race winner-elect, has sealed the king of the mountains, while Van Aert has an unassailable lead in the points classification. Even after losing Primož Roglič and Steven Kruijswijk to injury, their dominance on this Tour has been total, something akin to Renault, who notched up ten stage wins while helping Laurent Fignon to yellow in 1984.
"Would it not be a bit much to win a third of the stages on the Tour? Do other riders in the peloton not tell you to take the foot off the gas every now and then?" Laporte was asked in his post-stage press conference.
"A bit much? That makes me laugh," Laporte replied. "We do the maximum on every stage. When you have someone like Van Aert, who can win a lot of stages, on the team, that helps. And we also have Jonas, the best climber in the world. No rider has asked us to ease off, and I don't think I'd ever ask another team to do that if the situation was reversed."
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