Jumbo-Visma took an upbeat approach on Thursday evening to Primož Roglič's surprising loss of the leader’s jersey in the Itzulia Basque Country to rival Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates) on stage 4, saying that they were convinced that the race is “far from over.”
After one attack on stage 4's final climb of the Erlaitz failed to work out, McNulty powered away as part of a break on the rolling terrain that followed, with Roglič’s teammate Jonas Vingegaard also making it into the move.
Roglič stayed behind in the favourites' group, perhaps waiting for a reaction from Movistar and Ineos Grenadiers, in theory the two teams with the next most to lose after Jumbo-Visma.
But that reaction came too late for Roglič to hold the lead, and he finally crossed the line in 14th place, 49 seconds down. Overall, he has dropped to second at 23 seconds, while teammate Vingegaard has risen to third, at 28 seconds.
A scenario like this is open to multiple interpretations, but Jumbo-Visma’s management were determined that their glass of the powerful dry cider for which the Basque Country is rightly famous was half-full on Thursday evening, not half-empty.
“Of course we’d always rather have the jersey but we can’t control everything and for us a situation like this is also really good for the big stage on Saturday,” sports director Grischa Niermann told Cyclingnews after the stage.
“He [McNulty] already went on the climb and Jonas brought him back, and then when he went again, Primož chose to let him go.
“We were talking about this scenario that could happen. But there are two riders who are a lot stronger uphill here and that’s Primož and [Tadej] Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates).”
As for whether this kind of tactical retreat was the right strategic move to take, Niermann argued that only time will tell.
“We will see. Maybe on Saturday night, it’ll turn out that we took the wrong decision and we should have chased it down and made Primož ride for the jersey. But the race is far from over and for now we can live very well with this situation.”
Roglič has repeatedly emphasised that his Jumbo-Visma teammates the Basque Country are “young”, while from Niermann’s point of view the Itzulia Basque Country is a notoriously tough race and any squad would have its work cut out to keep a lid on all the potential attackers. That was particularly true on Thursday, which at 189 kilometres was the longest stage of the race, and run off at a viciously high pace to boot.
“Already the last three stages were very hard to control and the boys did a very good job of controlling that early break today. The TV didn’t show this but for 110 kilometres everybody wanted to be in the break and that took a lot of energy,” he added.
Not having the jersey, now, means that UAE will be in the driving seat, giving Jumbo-Visma the role of attacker, rather than having to defend the lead at all costs.
As Niermann put it, “we have a strong team and a strong leader, we are second and third overall, and I think the race is quite open.” But as he said, whether Jumbo-Visma played their cards right on Thursday will, really, only become clear on Saturday at the summit of the Basque Country’s most famous climb.
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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