Primož Roglič’s Tour de France hopes took a blow when he crashed hard on stage 3, then they faded in Wednesday’s time trial and on Friday to Le Creusot, they sunk totally during Saturday’s stage 8, the first stage in the Alps.
As Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) blasted away from his rivals and pulled on the leader’s jersey, Roglič was fighting simply to finish the 150.8-kilometre stage, fighting the pain of his stage 3 crash injuries as much as the Alpine gradients.
Roglič rode in a small group at the back of the race for much of the stage with the equally-suffering and injured Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) after being distanced on the uncategorised climb out of Oyonnax.
They fought on despite the climbs and challenge ahead of them, to finish at the back of the gruppetto, some 35:01 after Dylan Teuns (Bahrain Victorious) won the stage and 34:17 behind rampant Pogačar. They made it inside the time cut by a couple of minutes.
Seconds after crossing the finish line on Friday, Roglič found time and energy to give a bidon to a roadside fan, and on Saturday he stopped to speak to some Slovenian friends past the finish line and waved to the crowds who applauded him as he rode to the Jumbo-Visma team bus. He shows his humanity even in moments of defeat.
Roglič’s overall hopes are over for another year, and now he and Jumbo-Visma have to decide if it is worth staying in the Tour in hopes of recovering from his injuries and targeting a stage victory, or abandoning to lick his wounds and recover for the Tokyo Olympic Games and a possible defence of his Vuelta a España crown.
“We’re dead but we’re not buried. We’ve got to look for chances and see what opportunities we have,” team directeur sportif Merijn Zeeman told Cyclingnews.
With Pogačar’s ride stopping Wout van Aert from taking the yellow jersey from cyclo-cross rival Mathieu van der Poel (Alepcin-Fenix), Jumbo-Visma have a lot to ponder as they prepare for the second mountain stage in the Alps and then the second week across the south of France that goes over Mount Ventoux and into the Pyrenees.
Van Aert fought valiantly to limit his time loss to Pogačar and is tantalisingly close in second place overall, but also a distant 1:48 down, giving him no realistic chance of taking the race lead.
The Belgian is likely to try to survive on the climb to Tignes on Sunday and then fight for stage wins in the expected sprints in Valence, Nimes and Carcassonne. The final time trial around the vineyards of Bordeaux could also be a goal if Pogačar fades and focuses on overall victory.
Jumbo-Visma have become used to the highs and lows of Roglič's Grand Tour racing and will work on new race strategy with the riders they have.
The USA’s Sepp Kuss confirmed to Cyclingnews that he will perhaps be given the freedom to target stage wins in the mountains, while Jonas Vingegaard becomes Jumbo-Visma’s new protected rider and best GC hope.
“For sure I have to try to do something. Hopefully I can feel a little better in the next few days but I’ll try to do what I can,” said Kuss, who tried to go in a breakaway. “It was a hard day. It was a tough start and a bit crazy but exciting too.
“I haven’t seen Primož yet but he was suffering. He just wants to get to the next day and see how he feels. Now we’ve got to focus on other objectives as a team.”
Vingegaard crashed during the stage but got back up and finished 10th, 3:25 down on Pogačar but near many of the other riders who will likely emerge to fight for podium spots in this year’s Tour de France.
It is the 24-year-old Dane’s first Tour de France but he has impressed so far in three seasons at Jumbo-Visma.
He was second at Itzulia Basque Country, won a stage at the 2021 UAE Tour on Jebel Jais climb and was third in the Laval time trial on Wednesday. He is now fifth overall in the 13-rider group at five minutes and fighting for the podium and top five places.
Jumbo-Visma do not want to load him with responsibility and expectation but he has a career changing opportunity ahead of him between Tignes and Paris.
Vingegaard helped Roglič win last year’s Vuelta and Jumbo-Visma consider him a rider for the future. Roglič’s crash has fast tracked his Grand Tour career.
“Jonas can certainly go for a good classification. But we've been on the road for a week now. We’ll now see how the other classification riders perform and how Jonas relates to those guys. Maybe ten are better than he is,” Zeeman said.
"Of course we believe in him for the future and he can become a very good GC rider in the future, so we’ll see what happens without putting him under pressure."
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