Jumbo-Visma team manager Merijn Zeeman has played down expectations that young Dane Jonas Vingegaard could try to take on Tour de France leader Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) in the Pyrenean stages of the race.
Together with Wout Van Aert's stage win, Vingegaard gave Jumbo-Visma their second reason to be cheerful on Wednesday as his late attack on Mont Ventoux made Pogačar struggle for the first time in the Tour.
Although Pogačar and GC contenders Rigoberto Urán (EF Education-Nippo) and Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) caught Vingegaard on the descent, he moved up from fourth to third overall.
Despite Vingegaard being the first rider to outperform Pogačar on a climb, Zeeman gave a thumbs down to the question that this performance might provide 'hope' that he could take on the Slovenian.
"For us, no," Zeeman replied, "Pogačar is too far ahead. But it's good for morale and the team's energy and maybe it'll serve as inspiration for the other guys."
Zeeman agreed that it had been, as one reporter termed it, a 'very nice surprise' when Vingegaard gapped Pogačar. For Jumbo-Visma, bereft of their top contender Primož Roglič following his crashes, it was a hugely welcome boost to their collective morale.
Vingegaard's progress in the Tour de France this year is remarkable, but for all his inexperience he has already shone on the climbs in his one Grand Tour prior to this July.
In last year's Vuelta a España, Vingegaard turned in a memorable performance for Roglič on the Farrapona summit finish in the third week, leading the pack on the fearsome Asturian climb for almost 20 kilometres.
It shouldn't be forgotten either that he was the strongest of the other GC contenders in the first Tour de France time trial, taking third. But while that might give him some grounds to hope he could shine in the third week's TT, at Laval on stage 5, Pogačar was still 27 seconds ahead when he won the stage.
In another interview with Belgian outlet Sporza.be, Zeeman underlined that Vingegaard was not going to try mission impossible and see if he could topple Pogacar.
"It's nice that there is still some tension in the Tour, but unless he cracks really badly, which I don't believe will happen, Pogačar is unreachable."
Vingegaard is currently 5:32 down on the Slovenian, meaning he has an enormous amount of ground to make up. Second-placed Rigoberto Urán (EF Education-Nippo) is only 14 seconds ahead though, and was also dropped by the Dane on the Ventoux. The podium, then, is by no means decided.
As for Van Aert, Zeeman said they had two objectives with the Belgian, "either to go for the breakaway or to drop back and help Jonas if he needed to do that."
"It was already in his mind yesterday [Tuesday] to be in the break today," Zeeman revealed. "He was very focussed and won an epic stage in his Belgian National Champion's jersey. It was an honour for me to have a role in the team behind that win."
The one piece of bad news for Jumbo-Visma on Wednesday was Tony Martin’s abandon because of a crash. Speaking at the finish, Zeeman said he had no further updates at the time.
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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