Despite not being able to gain time back on any of their major GC rivals on stage 15 of the Tour de France, Ineos Grenadiers directeur sportif Gabriel Rasch has refused to throw in the towel and vowed that team leader Richard Carapaz will fight on all the way to Paris.
The 2019 Giro d’Italia winner sits fourth in the overall standings, 5:33 behind the unshakeable Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), who is just a week away from winning back-to-back Tours.
The British team were on the front foot on stage 15, with the race heading deep into the Pyrenees for a finish in Andorra. The team put two riders into the huge break of the day, with Dylan van Baarle and Jonathan Castroviejo both sent up the road during another opening hour of frantic racing in this year’s Tour de France.
As the stage wore on, it was Ineos Grenadiers who lifted the pace on the Port d'Envalira at the front of the yellow jersey group, with Richie Porte, Geraint Thomas and Michal Kwiatkowski instrumental in isolating Pogačar from the rest of his team.
Only about a dozen riders made it over the climb with the race favourites and it was Carapaz who looked to capiltalize on his team’s hard work with the first major attack on the lower slopes of the final ascent of the Col de Beixalis.
The move was brought back by Pogačar and Jumbo-Visma’s revelation Jonas Vingegaard but, as the climb wore on, several more riders then tried to put the yellow jersey under pressure, with Rigoberto Urán (EF-Nippo), Ben O’Connor (AG2R Citroën), and Vingegaard all taking turns to attack.
By the summit, however, Pogačar remained comfortably in control, and the Slovenian, Carapaz and a small group of riders would eventually cross the line in the same time behind stage winner Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma).
The only victim of Ineos Grenadier's aggression was Frenchman Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) who struggled to hold the pace over the high Col Port d'Envalira and lost four minutes to his GC rivals and slipped from second to ninth.
"That was our plan and we wanted to put some pressure on with the altitude and use that but there was a bit too much headwind. In the end, it came down to Carapaz, Uran and Vingegaard. It was a bit cat and mouse there in the final,” Rasch said at the finish in Andorra, having seen his team leader move up a place on GC but not land a single blow on the yellow jersey.
"He’s good. He wants to fight on, maybe with mountain-top finishes we can do something different," Rasch added when asked about Carapaz.
"We’ll keep on trying. A lot can still happen, and there’s still a week to go. A lot of things can still happen. The other guys look strong so we’ll see."
Rasch was asked if he had seen any weaknesses in Pogačar’s armour but, since a slight wobble on Mont Ventoux, the race leader has looked solid.
"He looks strong, he looks really strong," Rasch said.
"Vingegaard and Urán also look strong but let's see what happens next week. We’ll keep on fighting."
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