Tadej Pogačar had promised that he would go on the attack once the Tour de France hit the Pyrenees, and attack he did – even if race leader Jonas Vingegaard proved to be, once again, undroppable.
The Slovenian tried several moves far from the finish of stage 16 to Foix, attacking twice on the Port de Lers with over 50km of the stage still to run. After that first-category climb had been run, he went again, trying to get away on the descent.
None of the moves came off, however, and there were to be no more on the steep Mur de Péguère, the climb which most had expected Pogačar to go on the offensive.
To rub salt in the wound, the reigning champion's UAE Team Emirates squad took another hit as Marc Soler finished the day 15 minutes outside the time cut. The Spaniard had been ill – visibly – during the stage, and his withdrawal now leaves Pogačar with just four men to rely on going forward.
"It wasn't the day I hoped for," Pogačar said after the stage. "I tried but it wasn't our day. Not that it was bad, but it wasn't very good either.
"We lost Marc Soler early with stomach problems and Rafał Majka had mechanical problems on the final climb. Then Jumbo-Visma also sent Van Aert ahead. I hope to get better in the coming days.
"I will continue to fight, and I hope that I gain some time, I will always try," he added, reiterating what he said countless times since his unexpected collapse and time loss on the Col du Granon last week.
Pogačar also gave his reason for not resuming his attacks at the top of the Mur de Péguère, where the double-digit gradients would normally suit him more than Jumbo-Visma's Vingegaard.
"Anyway, Sepp Kuss was really strong and Vingegaard also, and they had [Wout] Van Aert in front," he said. "So, there wasn't really much point in going on the attack in the final kilometres of the climb. It's going to be interesting tomorrow and the day after."
Pogačar's brief move on the early descent off the Port de Lers was something of a novelty for the Slovenian in this year's Tour, with previous attempts to dislodge Vingegaard having come uphill on the slopes of the Alpe d'Huez and Mende.
As the stages roll by, his attacks seem liable to come whenever and wherever he pleases, such is the increasing need to gain time on Vingegaard ahead of the stage 20 time trial. He said he isn't sure whether he'd try again on a downhill in the coming days, however.
"I don't know yet," he said in response to a question about move descent attacking. "I've done the recons, but descents aren't my favourite terrain to force a decision.
"Today it wasn't ideal uphill to get a lot of time. Tomorrow and the day after are better for that."
Thank you for reading 5 articles in the past 30 days*
Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read any 5 articles for free in each 30-day period, this automatically resets
After your trial you will be billed £4.99 $7.99 €5.99 per month, cancel anytime. Or sign up for one year for just £49 $79 €59
Join now for unlimited access
Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1